China elevates HK leader gains status

Tung Chee-hwa, the leader of Hong Kong's first post-colonial government, is said to have been given state leadership status by China's ruling Communist Party. This places Mr Tung in a category normally reserved for those at or above the position of Politburo members or vice presidents.

A report in the Hong Kong Standard newspaper yesterday stated that Mr Tung had been selected to join this select group by the Communist Party in Peking. Mr Tung's office refused to comment on the report.

Circumstantial evidence, such as the level of the reception Mr Tung receives when he is in China, and his treatment in China's state-controlled media, suggest that the report is sound.

It means that Hong Kong's new leader is theoretically able to rub shoulders with China's president and Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin, and even the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping since the term "state leader" is bestowed on holders for life.

The designation of Mr Tung as a state leader also confirms the very high level of importance the Chinese leadership is attaching to the resumption of sovereignty on 1 July. It may mean that Hong Kong's new leader has considerably more clout in Peking than the average provisional leader.

On the other hand, attacks on state leaders are treated as subversion in China. If this is applied to criticism of Mr Tung, it will represent a considerable diminution of freedom of speech in Hong Kong where abuse of leaders is routine, and where, at a recent demonstration, an effigy of Mr Tung was burned for the first time.

n Reuters - Hong Kong's largest foreign community, the 140,000 Filipinos who work mainly as maids, received assurances yesterday that they would not lose out after the British colony reverts to China. Jose de Venecia, a Philippine congressman, said he obtained the assurances during a meeting with Tung Chee-hwa.