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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 01:17 GMT
HK's debate on full democracy

By Chris Hogg
BBC Hong Kong correspondent

During a visit to Hong Kong, China's Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan has made clear his government remains firmly behind the embattled administration of the territory's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

His visit is the first by a senior member of the Chinese leadership to Hong Kong since 500,000 people took to the streets in July to protest against new internal security laws.

These had to be shelved by Mr Tung's administration, and since then a number of economic concessions have been granted to Hong Kong by the mainland in a bid to ease tensions in the territory.

Tung Chee-hwa
China has stressed its continued backing for Tung Chee-hwa
But there is little sign yet of another of the marchers' demands, more democracy.

The July protests shocked the administration in Hong Kong, and the Chinese leadership in Beijing. What worried them was that ordinary people who had never before taken to the streets felt moved to protest, people like IT consultant James Tsao.

"Politics is relevant to us and to our next generation and we have to be responsible so at least we can face up to our sons and daughters and say your dad and your mum contributed to the process and didn't just sit back and let things go by," he said.

A completely free election of the chief executive is certainly not acceptable to [China] at this stage
Professor Joseph Cheng
Hong Kong's mini-constitution - the Basic Law - guarantees its citizens certain rights, including freedom of speech.

What people do not yet have is the right to vote for their chief executive.

Now though, even those politicians who describe themselves as pro-Beijing say that has to change.

"There is this provision in the basic law that we have to move towards this ultimate goal of full democracy in a gradual and orderly manner and we believe that 10 years after Hong Kong's return to China, electing the chief executive by universal suffrage is a gradual and orderly step forward," said Tsang Yok-sing, of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong.

Beijing's fears

The territory will hold district council elections later this month.

Hong Kong protest
The July protests shocked leaders in Hong Kong and China
But on the aspiration set out in the Basic Law - that Hong Kong's chief executive could be elected after 2007 - the government seems less willing to reveal its hand, promising only to publish a timetable for a consultation on the issue.

The convenor of a new pro-democracy movement, Professor Joseph Cheng, said he suspected this was due to pressure from Beijing.

"Basically the Chinese leadership doesn't want the situation to get out of control in Hong Kong. It wants to be able to control the process, it wants to be able to exercise its veto, so a completely free election of the chief executive is certainly not acceptable to them at this stage," he said.

Tsang Yok-sing said those fears may be justified. He has seen opinion polls carried out by Hong Kong's government. "According to the central policy unit, if some time in the near future another rally is organised to demand universal suffrage in the year 2007 there will be even more people than on July 1st," he said.

At the offices of Civic Exchange, one of Hong Kong's few think tanks, there was a feeling that taking to the streets again might not help their cause.

Christine Loh is its chief executive.

"People have been talking about wanting more democracy but what we haven't done is focus on what we want in the end and how do we get there. So that's much tougher it really requires buckling down and thinking about," she said.

And these days of course, as ever closer ties are forged between Hong Kong and the rest of China, whatever they come up with will have to satisfy those in the leadership compound in Beijing as well as the citizens on the streets in Hong Kong.

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09 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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