China flaunts 'success' of Hong Kong meetings

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The Independent Online
According to yesterday's Peking-backed newspapers in Hong Kong, China has scored a great success by carrying out a two-day consultation during which a number of organisations and individuals gave their views on how the territory's new leadership was to be selected.

The fact that the exercise was dogged by protests, some uncharacteristically violent, and that students who expressed unwelcome views were thrown out of the meetings, was seen as confirmation of China's determination not to allow instability to break out when Peking resumes sovereignty next year.

The newspapers conveying these views were supported in a fashion which illustrates how China's old revolutionary "united-front" tactics are being deployed as non-Communist advisers to the Chinese government were trotted out to say how useful the consultations had been.

This was not the view of three legislators and their supporters who yesterday said they would be staging a 50-hour mobile hunger strike in protest at the way the consultation exercise had largely shunned anyone expressing dissenting views.

The hunger-strikers have vowed to sit in a truck following the movements of Lu Ping, China's most senior official responsible for Hong Kong affairs, who is making a rare visit to the colony as part of the consultation exercise.

The consultation is the first of its kind in almost a decade since China sought views on the drafting of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution for the territory after the Chinese takeover.

The hunger strike, which is largely a symbolic gesture, follows a weekend of protest which attracted only limited participation but appeared to have widespread public backing, as reflected in opinion polls and radio phone-in shows.

"While many people in Hong Kong do not take to the streets to protest", wrote the politician Emily Lau in yesterday's South China Morning Post, "Mr Lu should not take this as a sign they condone the Chinese government's habitual refusal to consider dissenting views."

Returning from a visit to Britain, the Governor, Chris Patten, said he too was concerned about China's reluctance to listen to representatives from political parties which consistently secure the highest number of votes in Hong Kong elections.

At a closed session yesterday Chinese officials and their Hong Kong advisers started a post-mortem on the results of the consultations, which were primarily aimed at determining the formation of an election committee to chose the first Chief Executive, who will head the first post-colonial administration, and the mechanism to select the members of a temporary legislature to replace the existing one, which will be dissolved after China resumes power.

Meanwhile, China's supporters in Hong Kong are planning a series of events to muster support for the new order, while the hitherto fragmented democracy camp is showing new signs of cohesion as it becomes increasingly clear that China intends to give its members absolutely no say in the future of the territory.