China to scrap Hong Kong's elected council

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The Independent Online
China will disband Hong Kong's elected legislature in 1997 and replace it by an appointed caretaker body for up to 12 months, the mainland's senior official for Hong Kong affairs said at the weekend.

Lu Ping, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, also raised fears of disruption in the British colony's legal system by suggesting that judges on the Court of Final Appeal would not definitely retain their positions when sovereignty reverts to China.

Formal confirmation by Mr Lu that Peking will set up its own provisional legislature in the colony is another nail in the coffin for the electoral reforms devised by Chris Patten, Governor of Hong Kong. Mr Lu said the establishment of an interim legislative body from 1 July 1997 was "imperative" because Britain had "foiled" the arrangements for the post-1997 government. The appointed body would have limited power and would be disbanded after a year, but its existence means that a group of people hand-picked by China will be in charge of devising Hong Kong's new electoral system.

Mr Lu's comments mean that Mr Patten's system will not last one minute longer than British sovereignty. Before the Governor provoked Peking's ire by setting out plans unilaterally to increase democracy in the colony, both the Chinese and the British intention had been for a so-called "through train" Legislative Council (Legco), whereby legislators elected in September 1995 would remain on Legco until elections in 1999. When the Patten package of reforms became law in June this year, China an nounced it would scrap the voting system left by the British, disband all three tiers of elected government in the colony, and hold new elections under its own arrangements. This left the question of what would take the place of the disbanded Legco durin g the transitionary period before new elections could be held.

Mr Lu was speaking after a meeting in Peking of the China-appointed Preliminary Working Committee (PWC), a body of pro-China representatives from Hong Kong and mainland officials that has been set up to prepare for post-1997 Hong Kong. The PWC will now consider how the "caretaker" legislators will be chosen.

Mr Patten yesterday reserved his verbal fire for Mr Lu's reported remarks about the Court of Final Appeal judges, saying he was "surprised" at comments that seemed to contradict China's own laws for post-1997 Hong Kong. "If Chinese officials were to say now that the relevant article on the judges no longer applied, it would not just have an impact on the recruitment of judges in the future," Mr Patten said.

"It would have an impact on the whole rule of law ... We are extremely concerned to ensure that the rule of law continues to apply in Hong Kong.