HONG KONG — BEIJING'S hard-liners are quietly tightening their grip on mainland officials based in Hong Kong as China prepares to regain sovereignty over the territory in 1997. But a full-scale purge of moderate cadres who wavered over supporting the June 1989 crackdown on student-led protests for democracy has been curtailed, Western diplomats and Chinese sources say.
``Everyone has been waiting for the rolling of heads, but it isn't happening,'' says a Western diplomat stationed in the territory. ``They seem to have avoided a witch hunt.''
Instead, the communist regime is engaged in a more subtle, behind-the-scenes effort to bolster control over its de facto headquarters here, the local branch of the New China News Agency (NCNA), according to Chinese officials and Hong Kong sources.
For example, new regulations will limit to six years the time mainland officials can be posted here, says a Hong Kong-based Chinese official, who requested anonymity. The restriction is apparently aimed at preventing a weakening of the allegiance of the more than 300 mainland cadres at NCNA during the sensitive transition period to Chinese rule.
Another set of regulations issued by the Beijing headquarters of the NCNA is curbing employees' freedom to travel abroad as tourists or visit relatives, according to the latest issue of Pai Shing, a China-watching weekly. The eight-point circular effective Jan. 1 marks an attempt to prevent NCNA staff from seeking asylum abroad, the magazine says.
Similarly, Beijing is attempting to carry out a housecleaning of mainland companies in Hong Kong along with a parallel ``rectification'' drive in China. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Chinese officials who sought to remain in Hong Kong set up ``briefcase'' companies to justify their presence. The tiny companies also provided documentation that allowed officials to gain visas for their families and relatives to enter Hong Kong.
And in what some analysts say is an effort by hard-line Premier Li Peng to boost supervision of NCNA, the State Council's Office of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs has dispatched an advisor, Rong Kang, to NCNA. Mr. Rong can attend meetings of top NCNA officials and report directly to NCNA director Zhou Nan.
Beijing's hushed disciplining of mainland officials in Hong Kong reflects its desire to create a facade of unity to smooth the transition to Chinese rule, diplomats say.
It also reflects a rift between hard-liners and moderates that is delaying key personnel decisions in China. Wracked by divisions, the Communist Party has failed to resolve the fate of ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang or to decide on promotions to the Politburo.
An attempt by hard-liners to wage a full-scale purge of moderate cadres in the territory was aborted after the unexpected flight of Xu Jiatun, the reform-minded ex-NCNA director, to the United States last May, Hong Kong Chinese sources say.
Mr. Xu, who had openly praised Hong Kong's capitalist ways, was blamed for the participation of pro-China groups and mainland officials in massive protests that erupted here after the June 4, 1989 massacre.
``Beijing realized that the purge of local officials could not be too severe. If they went too far, perhaps half of all cadres would leave,'' says a Hong Kong Chinese source who worked for a pro-China organization before the crackdown.
On a smaller scale, however, personnel changes are expected to continue in the form of retirements and rotations, which are less likely to arouse popular attention.
Those slated for transfer out of Hong Kong include Zhang Junsheng and Zheng Hua, deputy directors of NCNA closely linked with Xu, according to diplomats and Chinese sources. Rumors of their imminent departure has been fueled by Beijing's appointment of two new deputy directors whose duties overlap with those of Mr. Zhang and Mr. Zheng.
Two organization charts of NCNA published by the Hong Kong journal Dang Dai, reveal that from Dec. 1989 to Dec. 1990 Beijing added a number of new officials to the NCNA hierarchy, creating an opportunity to quietly withdraw others.
``I am mentally prepared to return to the mainland,'' says a Chinese official who anticipates a transfer soon.