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Hong Kong Activist Seeks US Support for Pro-Democracy Efforts - 2004-03-05

Secretary of State Colin Powell met Friday with Martin Lee, a founder of Hong Kong's Democratic Party and an outspoken advocate of democracy in the former British colony. Mr. Lee's Washington visit, which included Senate testimony Thursday, has drawn criticism from China.

The meeting with Mr. Powell capped a high-profile Washington visit for Mr. Lee that included Senate testimony and a meeting with White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and which has triggered a wave of critical comment from China.

Mr. Lee is seeking U.S. support for an effort by pro-democracy groups to have Hong Kong's chief executive popularly elected by 2007. He says Hong Kong's mini-constitution, called the Basic Law, provides for such an election.

His Democratic Party, Hong Kong's largest, is also hoping to increase its strength in critical legislative elections in September.

Pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong and Chinese officials have objected to Mr. Lee's Washington visit on grounds that constitutional issues in Hong Kong are an internal matter, and at least one Hong Kong official has labeled Mr. Lee and other members of his delegation as "traitors."

In a talk with reporters after meeting Secretary Powell, Mr. Lee said recent events in Hong Kong "do not look too good" for the future of democracy there.

However, he said he thinks criticism of him and his party will diminish over time. And he said he believes the new generation of Chinese leaders represented by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will ultimately come to see that democracy is a "good thing" for Hong Kong, since they are reform advocates themselves.

"I am confident that in the long-term these strong attacks on us will go away and will die down, because we are so confident that the new leaders, Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen, will know ultimately that democracy is not something they should fear," he said. "And even if the democratic camp were to take a majority of the seats in the September elections this year, they have nothing to fear because we will be working for the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong."

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule from British sovereignty in 1997, under an agreement guaranteeing the city's autonomy for 50 years under the "one-country, two systems" doctrine.

Mr. Lee said he assured Secretary Powell of his commitment to that doctrine, as well as the "one-China" policy also embraced by the United States.

In his appearance Thursday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Mr. Lee called for the United States to pressure China to keep its promises on Hong Kong, and said Chinese leaders should be persuaded that the "only possible way forward" for Hong Kong is to bring about democracy.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said at a briefing Friday that the government can manage Hong Kong without having foreign powers, as he put it "stick their noses in."