China to close off Hong Kong as escape route

 

THE Chinese authorities made clear yesterday that they would not allow Hong Kong to be used by dissidents and ideological opponents after June 30th, 1997 to escape from the mainland to countries prepared to give them asylum such as the US.

The flight of Chinese dissident Mr Wang Xizhe to San Francisco after being smuggled to Hong Kong from his home in the southern China province of Guangdong may be one of the last of its kind, as the escape route is likely to be shut down after China assumes sovereignty on July 1st next year.

Hundreds of Chinese activists escaped through Hong Kong after the repression of student led democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The underground operation was known as "Yellowbird".

China yesterday branded Mr Wang an illegal immigrant to the US and demanded that Washington should co operate in returning him "to justice". He recently signed a petition calling for talks on Tibet and attacking the Chinese Communist Party leader, Mr Jiang Zemin.

China will have sovereignty here and technically it could prevent even a dissident who was given asylum by a foreign consulate here from actually leaving the territory," Mr Robin Munro director of Human Rights Watch Asia, said.

While the territory will be administered for 50 years as a semi autonomous economic zone, Beijing will have responsibility for security and foreign affairs.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mr Shen Guofang said: "We are trying to bring Wang and his collaborators to justice. We hope officials can crack down on these illegal border crossings."

Mr Shen confirmed that the Chinese authorities were on the point of arresting Mr Wang when he fled. "The Chinese government is trying to prosecute him according to the law," he told correspondents in Beijing.

He also made it clear that the Chinese government would not tolerate foreign consulates be coming places of refuge for asylum seekers. "This is obviously a case of illegal immigration. The government of Hong Kong needs no reminder," he said.

The Chinese border with Hong Kong is formed by a double row of barbed wire with a patrol corridor in between.

Most fugitives from the mainland are believed to reach Hong Kong by boat.

What is at stake now is the fate after June 1997 of those who have "collaborated" with dissidents, the South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong, said yesterday.