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Hong Kong Leadership to Hold Emergency Talks - 2003-07-17

Hong Kong's leader will meet with Beijing officials to discuss the territory's growing political crisis. The emergency talks were arranged following the resignation of both the financial and security ministers, and widespread public dissatisfaction with government policies. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa says he was shocked at the number of people joining a massive rally against a controversial security bill and his administration.

On July 1 500,000 people marched on government offices, condemning the proposed laws as an affront to the territory's freedoms. But demonstrators also denounced Mr. Tung as incompetent and arrogant.

Mr. Tung eventually delayed a final vote on the laws, but he says he will remain in office and listen more closely to Hong Kong people.

"Citizens of Hong Kong expressed aspirations and concerns, it is impossible for me to respond to each item one by one in such a short time," he said. "But our objective is to look at each item."

He also said he would not abandon the controversial security laws but instead restart a public consultation period on the planned provisions.

Hong Kong's embattled leader must face at least two crucial tests in upcoming days.

First, he must explain to Beijing why two top ministers suddenly quit his administration. Then, Mr. Tung must fill the vacancies.

Beijing has pledged not to get involved.

China's foreign minister Kong Quan says the central government will respect Hong Kong's autonomy from the mainland under its policy of "one country two systems."

But a prominent academic told VOA that Mr. Tung's future depends on how Beijing perceives his handling of the crisis.

"People will be closely watching whether Beijing will come up strongly in his support," said Professor Joseph Cheng, a political scientist with Hong Kong's City University. "Finding respectable people to fill the vacancies will be a rather testing task. It is difficult to persuade people to jump onto a sinking ship."

The resignation of the financial and security secretaries sent tremors through Hong Kong's financial markets. The Hang Seng index lost more than 100 points, but closed above the psychologically important 10,000-point level.

Hong Kong also reported record unemployment of nearly nine percent.