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Hong Kong, Chinese Leaders to Meet Amidst Political Crisis - 2003-07-17

Hong Kong's leader will meet with Beijing officials to discuss about the growing political crisis in the Chinese territory. Saturday's emergency talks follow the resignation of both the financial and security ministers, and widespread public dissatisfaction with government policies. The political uncertainty has put Hong Kong's financial markets on edge.

Hong Kong's embattled Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa faces at least two crucial tests in the coming days. First, he must explain to Beijing why two key ministers suddenly quit his administration. Then Mr. Tung must then set about filling the vacancies. The two unpopular ministers, Security Secretary Regina Ip and Financial Secretary Antony Leung, resigned within hours of each other Wednesday evening.

Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 after 150 years of British rule, maintains separate legal, judicial and administrative systems from the mainland.

But a prominent academic told VOA Thursday that the Mr. Tung's future depends on how Beijing perceives his handling of the crisis. Professor Joseph Cheng is a political scientist with Hong Kong's City University.

"Mr. Tung is going to Beijing on Saturday so people will be closely watching whether Beijing will come up strongly in his support," says Mr. Cheng. "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."

Hong Kong's administration was first thrown into crisis following a massive rally against a controversial security bill.

On July 1 a half million people marched on government offices condemning the proposed laws as an affront to the territory's freedoms, which are not enjoyed on the mainland. But demonstrators also denounced Mr. Tung and his administration as incompetent and arrogant.

Former secretary for security, Regina Ip, who was tasked with introducing the security bill, stepped down after a poll showed she was the least popular public official in Hong Kong.

Antony Leung's resignation came as less of a surprise - the former financial secretary had been involved in a tax scandal for months. Some also blame him for not acting fast enough to curb Hong Kong's ballooning budget deficit.

Wednesday's resignations sent tremors through Hong Kong's financial markets Thursday. The Hang Seng index lost more than a hundred points but closed above the psychologically important 10-thousand point level.

Christopher Hammerbeck heads Hong Kong's British Chamber of Commerce. He told Hong Kong's CTV that investors in Hong Kong are nervous. "The resignation of both the financial secretary and the secretary for security have created … uncertainly in Hong Kong. Business as a whole does not like uncertainly because it affects sentiment."

He added that business is hoping for is a swift resolution to the crisis.