Peking unveils HK 'shadow government'

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The Independent Online
TWith all the pomp and ceremony of a state occasion, President Jiang Zemin yesterday presided over a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People to establish officially the Peking-appointed Preparatory Committee, which will determine how Hong Kong will be governed after 30 June 1997.

Nationalism was the theme of the gathering, broadcast live and billed by Peking as marking the start of the "final stage" of the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty to China, now 17 months away. "The most important thing is to unite all patriots in Hong Kong," Mr Jiang said. "Under the flag of loving the motherland and loving Hong Kong, the Preparatory Committee can unite all forces that can be united."

The 150 committee members will in theory make some of the key decisions affecting Hong Kong's future, though it remains to be seen how much its Hong Kong members can influence the panel's Peking bosses. Ninety-four members come from Hong Kong, the rest from the mainland. Missing from the body, when it was announced last year, were any members of the Democratic Party, the most popular political party in Hong Kong.

The Preparatory Committee is to appoint a 400-strong Selection Committee, which will choose a "chief executive", the most important post in Hong Kong when it becomes a so-called Special Administrative Region of China next year.

Given Peking's unilateral decision to disband Hong Kong's existing Legislative Council, the committee also will decide how to set up an interim appointed legislature to take over the moment sovereignty reverts to the mainland. It will also plan China's side of the handover ceremony and other celebrations.

The committee will have its headquarters in Peking, but there will be a secretariat in Hong Kong to liaise with the Hong Kong government. Still unclear is the extent to which the existence of the Preparatory Committee will undermine the authority of the Hong Kong government, and divide loyalties of the colony's civil servants if it becomes a de facto "shadow" government. For Mr Jiang, the successful return of Hong Kong is a key element in boosting his image as the "core" of the new leadership, as China awaits the death of Deng Xiaoping, the ailing patriarch.

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