Hong Kong Liberals to Press New Governor on Reforms

THE newly appointed governor of Hong Kong will not arrive to assume his post until July, but liberal lawmakers cannot wait. Instead they plan to take the British colony's stickiest issues to him.

The United Democrats of Hong Kong hope to meet with incoming Gov. Chris Patten in London on May 18 and give him a raft of suggestions on how to nurture democracy.

The mission will force Mr. Patten to make an early decision on whether to break with the policy of current Gov. David Wilson and welcome the liberals to an active role in Hong Kong politics.

"Wilson has not cared whatsoever about developing a relationship with democratically elected members of the legislature," says Martin Lee Chu-ming, chairman of the United Democrats. Thus first impressions, in Patten's case, will be important, Mr. Lee says.

Patten will probably be Hong Kong's last governor before Britain yields control over the territory to China in 1997. His five years in office are likely to be one of the most important and potentially volatile periods in more than two centuries of British rule over Hong Kong.

Like his predecessors, Patten must reconcile the interests of Hong Kong and Britain while parrying the heavy-handed diplomacy of China.

Some Hong Kong residents believe that Britain has long disregarded their yearning for autonomy and democratic reform for fear of antagonizing Beijing.

And as 1997 approaches, Beijing is growing increasingly imperious, political observers say.

Despite promises of autonomy for Hong Kong, Beijing has demanded an institutionalized say in the construction of a new airport. It has also sought to restrict the independence of the territory's post-1997 judiciary.

Few issues alarm Beijing more than democratic reform. Some Hong Kong political analysts say Patten might prove friendlier to liberals and more assertive toward Beijing than Wilson.

Patten, who recently resigned as chairman of Britain's Conservative Party, is closely associated with Prime Minister John Major and has proven skills in orchestrating compromise.

Patten's political background starkly contrasts with Wilson's, who is widely viewed as a comparatively remote China-hand with strong bureaucratic loyalties to the Foreign Office.

Still, Patten might not be able to completely disown his predecessor's policies and the political intimacy between Patten and the Major could cut both ways. Patten might subordinate the needs of Hong Kong to the interests of the Major government, which he helped lead to victory in parliamentary elections.

The United Democrats intend to urge Patten to boost the proportion of directly elected legislators from about one-fourth to at least one-half by 1997. They also will seek representation on the Executive Council, the governor's Cabinet, and call for guarantees for a fully independent judiciary under China.

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