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World: Party Leader Appeals To Blair Government Over Hong Kong

  • Stuart Parrott

Hong Kong, 12 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - With less than two months to go before Britain returns Hong Kong to China, Democratic Party leader Martin Lee has called on the new Labor Government of Tony Blair to defend the colony's free society and people.

Referring to Blair's post-election commitment to "noble causes, duty and decency," Lee says: "There cannot be a more noble cause, a greater duty, or a more decent thing than to preserve the freedoms of Hong Kong's 6.5 million people." His plea was printed yesterday (Sunday) by Hong Kong's English-language "South China Morning Post" newspaper.

Lee, a lawyer who is a long-time critic of China's human rights record, said the recent threat to civil liberties by Chinese authorities will be the most pressing issue for the Blair government.

He says: "Should things continue to go awry in Hong Kong, the world community will look to Britain -- and to Mr Blair -- for leadership in defending Hong Kong's free society and people."

China and Britain signed a Joint Declaration in 1984 under which Hong Kong will be returned to China on July 1 this year under the "one country, two systems" policy devised by the late Deng Xioaping.

Chinese authorities agreed that Hong Kong's own people will rule Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy, and the territory will be permitted to keep its capitalist way of life for 50 years.

Hong Kong, at the mouth of Southern China's Pearl River, is one of the world's most successful capitalist enclaves with a gross domestic product higher than many European countries, including Britain.

Lee notes that in the Joint Declaration, Britain and China promised Hong Kong an elected legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law and personal freedoms. He said these promises formed the basis for the international community's support for the agreement.

But Lee says: "Throughout the past decade, China has broken these promises with increasing frequency. Today, China's policy towards Hong Kong can be summarized in a single word: control."

He says: "Mr Blair and his new government must urgently address the future of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong."

He says the most damaging blow to Hong Kong's future occurred in December when 400 members of a committee hand-picked by Beijing met to appoint a legislature. He says the "illegal and illegitimate provision legislature" has been operating over the border since then.

The "legislature" contains a number of members who were defeated in popular elections in 1991 and 1995. (Britain moved to grant democracy in Hong Kong only belatedly as the handover loomed close.)

Lee predicts that the Beijing-appointed legislature will pass new restrictive laws in the run-up to the July 1 handover when it will unseat the legitimate legislative council in Hong Kong, elected in 1995 by the colony's people in a free vote to a four-year term.

He says: "The Labor government should treat the provisional legislature as the illegal, unconstitutional body it is and be prepared to go the International Court of Justice to prove the point."

Lee notes that members of the U.S. Congress are refusing to meet members of China's appointed legislature when they visit Washington.

Lee says that there is no doubt Hong Kong's people want democracy, human rights and the rule of law. He says whenever they have had the chance to vote -- in six sets of elections since 1991 -- they have overwhelmingly elected members of his own party and its democratic allies, even in the face of China's opposition.

He adds: "We in Hong Kong are not asking for independence or for anything that Britain and China have not already promised. All we are asking is that those promises are kept."

He urges the Blair government to send a representative to Hong Hong to investigate the effects of China's decision to appoint an illegal legislature; the recent threats to roll back civil liberties; and what he calls the intimidation of the press. He also says that Britain should not sacrifice Hong Kong on account of trade with China.

Lee says: "Hong Kong is in the predicament we are now facing because China has not been discouraged from eradicating elected institutions and rolling back freedoms."

Lee says that both U.S. President Bill Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien assured him in meetings last month that they would support freedoms in Hong Kong.

"But North America and Europe will look to Britain as the Joint Declaration signatory to lead the way in defending Hong Kong," he says.