US to boycott swearing-in of China's chosen

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Madeline Albright, the United States Secretary of State, will boycott the ceremonies for installing Hong Kong's first post-colonial government in protest against China's decision to use the occasion to install an unelected legislature which will replace the territory's existing elected body.

The Governor Chris Patten, said yesterday that he guessed "some other political leaders who believe in democracy and democratic institutions will have the same sort of concerns". His comments strongly suggest that Britain too will turn its back on the swearing-in ceremony which will shortly follow the 30 June handover ceremony to be attended by world leaders and at least 40 high-level government representatives.

This decision adds to the growing feeling that the final day of British rule and the first day of Chinese rule will not be without considerable controversy. Last week, The Independent reported that China was likely to boycott Britain's farewell parade.

The United States has made clear that it does not wish to be seen endorsing or helping to make legitimate the creation of a provisional legislature set up by China to replace Hong Kong's first fully elected Legislative Council.

It had been thought that the 4,000 or so VIPs invited to observe the handover ceremonies would then attend the swearing-in ceremony for the new govern-ment's top officials. However, last month it became known that China also wanted to include a ceremony for members of the Provisional Legislature.

This provoked a flurry of diplomatic protests but China and the incoming Hong Kong government have made it clear that once a decision had been taken to include the legislature's members in the proceedings, it could not changed. This point was emphasised yesterday by Henry Tang, a member of the new government's cabinet.

A spokesman for Rita Fan, the president of the Provisional Legislature, said she was not concerned whether or not Mrs Albright would be present, as the body was set up to serve the people of Hong Kong and so it did not matter whether foreigners approved of it or not.

United States China policy has become increasingly focused on the Hong Kong transition. A recent report by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy notes that "Washington has ignored China's description of the transition as an internal affair and is turning China's treatment of Hong Kong into a litmus test for US-China relations".

Hong Kong's Democratic Party filed a court injunction yesterday to challenge the constitutional legality of Peking's hand-picked shadow legislature set to replace a democratically elected assembly upon the 30 June handover of the British colony. Legal experts said the move had little chance of success but may temporarily block the Peking-selected chamber now forced to meet in China.