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World: Britain Leaves Hong Kong To Uncertain Political Future

Hong Kong, 30 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- As China's President Jiang Zemin flew today into Hong Kong to a red carpet welcome and the final emblems of British rule over Hong Kong were packed away for posterity, there were fresh calls for China to respect the freedoms of the territory it regains at midnight.

Residents and tourists clogged the streets around Government House, the residence of British Governor Chris Patten, as he made his final departure from the house, which will now become a museum.

Meanwhile, a series of bilateral meetings were taking place involving U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and the foreign ministers of China and Russia.

Albright said during the course of her meetings that the U.S. would press for free and fair elections to Hong Kong's new legislative council. Cook said Washington and London were concerned about China's decision to replace the existing legislature with an appointed body but added that China's Foreign Minister Qian Quichen had assured him that Hong Kong would have hold fresh election for a new legislature within 12 months.

Albright, Cook and visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair will not attend the swearing-in ceremony of the new legislature but have decided to send diplomats to represent their countries at the event.

An aide to Hong Kong's chief executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa confirmed at the weekend that the post-handover administration was prepared to hold legislative elections next May, in compliance with provisions of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The joint declaration and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, approved by China in 1990, provide for the preservation of Hong Kong's capitalist way of life and freedoms for at least 50 years after the handover for the territory's 6.5 million people. The formula proposed by the late Deng Xiaoping was "one country, two systems." But longtime observers of China and Hong Kong have expressed doubts about China honoring its commitments, despite repeated pledges of trust.

U.S. and British leaders have also expressed concern about China's decision to send 4,000 troops and armored vehicles into the territory six hours after the handover. The first contingent of Chinese troops crossed today into Hong Kong. Under the handover arrangements, Chinese troops are to replace the British garrison and take over from Britain responsibility for Hong Kong's defense.

But U.S. and British officials say the use of armored vehicles is unnecessary and inappropriate.

Media attention will also closely focus on how authorities deal with a planned demonstration by the Democratic Party and other activists before and during the handover ceremony tonight. Demonstrators plan to march to the offices of the new chief executive at 0030.

The main difference between the existing and revised Public Order ordinances is that police can consider banning a protest if it is found to be a threat to national security after the handover. The newly designated Secretary of Justice has said it would be an offense for people to chant slogans such as "Down with Li Peng" after June 30 as if they had the intention of overthrowing the Chinese government.

Similarly, the designated Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, said in a recent interview it would be illegal for demonstrators to rally on behalf of independence for Tibet or Taiwan.