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Saturday, February 13, 1999 Published at 12:20 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China warns Hong Kong

Chinese migrants protest against repatriation

China has told Hong Kong to correct a controversial court ruling on immigration.

Senior Chinese officials told Hong Kong Justice Secretary Elsie Leung that a judgement allowing hundreds of thousands of mainland immigrants the right to live in Hong Kong violated the Basic Law - the territory's post-handover constitution.

[ image: Elsie Leung: Sent to defuse row]
Elsie Leung: Sent to defuse row
They said the decision by Hong Kong's Final Court of Appeal needed to be "rectified", although Ms Leung did not say what this would mean in practical terms.

BBC Hong Kong Correspondent Jill McGivering says the comments are likely to increase fears in Hong Kong that Beijing is planning to overturn the ruling.

Many people in Hong Kong see Beijing's criticisms as an assault on their legal autonomy under the concept of 'one country, two systems' - a principle that formed the basis for the handover to Chinese rule.

Legislators and legal groups in Hong Kong say interference could undermine confidence in the whole legal system. The independence of Hong Kong's judiciary is widely seen as foundation of domestic and international confidence in the territory's future.

NPC concerns

Following a meeting with mainland officials, Ms Leung said Beijing was most concerned about the part of the ruling dealing with the role of the National People's Congress - the highest organ of state power in China.

"They are very concerned and are questioning the ability of the court to interpret the actions of the NPC Standing Committee," she said.

Legal analysts have said the Chinese Government views the ruling as an infringement of its sovereignty.

The deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Chen Zuoer, said it was an issue for "one country" to deal with.

He said the meeting had been "very good and very harmonious".

Ms Leung flew to Beijing on Friday in an attempt to defuse the row - the first major constitutional dispute between Hong Kong and China since the UK handed over the territory in 1997.

18-month battle

The judgement was the final stage in an 18-month court battle to define the right of abode set out in the Basic Law.

[ image: The judgement could force existing migrants to go through immigration procedures]
The judgement could force existing migrants to go through immigration procedures
It rules that all mainland children with one parent permanently resident in Hong Kong could live in the territory, even if they were illegitimate or if their parent only became a permanent resident after the child was born.

It is estimated that 300,000 to one million people are affected. Chinese officials told Ms Leung that the ruling would bring a large influx of immigrants and put "immense pressure" on Hong Kong - which is already struggling to cope with a severe economic recession.

Many people in the territory have expressed fears that the city's public services and schools could be swamped by an influx of mainland migrants.

Ms Leung said the dispute would require time and discussion to resolve. However, she said the Hong Kong authorities had shown they had "the ability to handle this".

She said officials from both the mainland and Hong Kong's immigration department would discuss how immigrants already given the right of abode would arrive in the territory in an orderly manner.

Chinese officials told her that mainlanders would still need approval from local authorities.

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