Tung feels US chill and calls off visit

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Tung Chee-hwa, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong's first post-colonial government, announced yesterday that he would postpone a planned visit to the US next month as his leading opponent, Martin Lee, the leader of the Democratic Party, prepares for a meeting tomorrow with President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore.

It is understood that Mr Tung was concerned that he would not be received at the same level or with the same degree of warmth which has greeted Mr Lee during his lengthy visit to the United States.

Mr Lee arrived in the United States without any confirmed meetings at senior levels of the US administration. However he has already held a successful 45 minute meeting with Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, and secured a considerable coup by arranging a meeting with the President. These meetings were the result of intensive lobbying by Mr Lee's impressive number of allies in Congress.

Branded as a "subversive" by the Chinese government, Mr Lee is the colony's most prominent democrat and leader of the party which has consistently scored the highest number of votes in Hong Kong's limited election system.

Mr Tung is well connected in United States business and foreign policy circles, but his aides were concerned that his connections would not be sufficient to make the sort of impact Mr Lee has been making during his visit.

They were also worried that Mr Tung would be forced to spend most of his time on the defensive, answering human rights concerns and explaining why he plans to curb civil liberties in the territory. A spokesman for Mr Tung insisted that he would try to visit the US in the second half of the year, explaining that he could not do so before then, "mainly because of the tremendous workload generated by the many pressing issues that remained to be resolved".

The background to the jockeying for attention in the United States is a growing anti-Peking sentiment in Congress and spreading unease about China's intentions towards Hong Kong. Mrs Albright has pointedly accepted an invitation to attend the 30 June celebrations to mark the handover to Chinese rule, saying she would be present to underline the United States commitment to preserving Hong Kong's current way of life and freedoms.

Senator Jesse Helms, the powerful chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, has indicated the extent of hostility to China by suggesting that members of the Hong Kong Provisional Legislature, appointed by the Chinese government, should be barred from entering the US because they are serving on an illegitimate body.

Mr Tung has indirectly accused Mr Lee of being responsible for American hostility by accusing him of spreading a negative view of Hong Kong in the United States. He originally said that the purpose of his visit would be to "dispel pessimistic views".

n London (Reuters) - Britain summoned a senior Chinese diplomat in London to warn him of "deep concerns" over the role of Peking's Provisional Legislature for Hong Kong.

Reports that this Chinese body was considering laws on public holidays in Hong Kong provoked Britain to summon the Chinese official.