Britain's plans for Hong Kong transition under fire

The British government has turned a cold shoulder to advocates of democracy for Hong Kong as that territory enters the final decade of British rule. ``The people of Hong Kong feel betrayed,'' said Martin Lee, leader of a delegation of Hong Kong citizens who visited London last week to plead the cause of representative government for the British colony. Mr. Lee is a lawyer and member of the Hong Kong legislative council who came to remind British leaders of their promises for political reform before Hong Kong reverts to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

After being denied meetings with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, Lee's delegation made public a letter to the prime minister. It called on her to honor British commitments and not to succumb to pressure from Peking by delaying or abandoning plans for direct elections.

``We are here to remind British parliamentarians that democracy is something the people of Hong Kong want,'' said John Young of the Hong Kong Affairs Society, one of several groups which advocates no delays in the development of more representative government.

A separate delegation also visited Peking last week and was warmly received by senior Chinese officials who listened to the delegation's views about political reforms in Hong Kong.

Britain and China signed an agreement in 1984 under which Hong Kong will revert to China with a guarantee that the territory will retain its capitalist system for at least another 50 years. The accord provides for a government by local residents with an elected legislature and an executive accountable to it. But many Hong Kong residents apparently have no confidence in the agreement and already see signs of Peking's interference in Hong Kong's affairs.

In the letter to Mrs. Thatcher, the Hong Kong delegation cited the results of an opinion poll which showed that public confidence in the joint agreement had fallen dramatically. Lee said the poll was conducted by a Hong Kong firm on behalf of a newspaper, but that the results were too sensitive to publish in Hong Kong.

In November 1984, according to the survey, some 81 percent of those polled thought the agreement was ``very good'' or ``quite good. ``This percentage dropped sharply last July to 28 percent. Another survey conducted in August this year showed that only 16 percent wanted Hong Kong to become a special administration region of China, while some 70 percent wanted it to remain a part of Britain or become independent.

After meeting with members of both houses of parliament, the group said it found many who were sympathetic to their point of view but that there was widespread ignorance about the situation in Hong Kong. They learned indirectly that the government has agreed to hold a parliamentary debate on Hong Kong early next year.

The delegation hoped to persuade the government to hold direct elections for seats in Hong Kong's legislative council in 1988. The election was proposed for discussion but subsequently mooted by the government in a 1984 discussion paper on political reform. The council is a 57-member advisory body appointed by the governor or chosen indirectly by professional groups.

Mainland Chinese officials in Hong Kong have indicated they are opposed to such elections and want any decision postponed until after 1990 when China will issue a draft basic law for Hong Kong which will become its mini-constitution under Chinese jurisdiction.

London and Peking have agreed that any political changes in Hong Kong should converge with China's basic law while also satisfying the joint agreement.

``If you understand `convergence' to mean convergence with the Chinese, then that means whatever China wants, China gets,'' said Lee. That kind of convergence is bad for Hong Kong, he added, because even with the best of intentions, China doesn't understand the territory.

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