Doubts over IMF meeting in China

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The Independent Online
A shadow hangs over the plans of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to hold next year's annual meeting in Hong Kong, shortly after its reversion to Chinese rule. This is the result of rising concern about the imprisonment of a Chinese member of the IMF staff, Mr Yang Hong, who was abducted while on a Fund mission to China earlier this year.

The staff association of the Fund, charged to examine the legal position of Mr Hong's case, wrote to all IMF governors on 27 September expressing concern about his treatment by the Chinese authorities. The letter has not been disclosed to the public for fear of damaging Mr Hong's position and the authors will not discuss it. It is understood that it did not specifically call for the location of the meetings to be moved, and no formal contingency planning to do so has yet begun.

Top Fund and Bank officials have decided to try other avenues before considering changing the location of the meeting. But a cancellation would be an embarrassing blow to the Chinese as the hand-over of power in July 1997 draws closer. However, some senior staff members of the Fund believe it will be politically very difficult to hold the meetings in Hong Kong, which by next September will have reverted to Chinese control, if Mr Hong has not been released.

The Bank and Fund were invited jointly to Hong Kong by the Chinese and British authorities. Fund staff are particularly perturbed about the circumstances of Mr Hong's abduction, as he was not originally part of the mission to China, which was not his area of responsibility, but was added at the request of the Chinese authorities.

IMF and World Bank staff do not have formal diplomatic status, but are normally treated as diplomats when on overseas missions and so would normally be immune from such interference. Representations by the IMF to secure Mr Hong's release have so far been unsuccessful.

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