Patten sees China's chosen assembly as `stomach churning'

 

THE Governor of Hong Kong, Mr Chris Patten, called it "stomach,churning", and a leading democrat, Mr Martin Lee, said it was the darkest day for Hong Kong since the June 4th 1989 crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square.

But the setting up on Saturday of a provisional legislature for the British colony by the Chinese government is nothing less than a fait accompli, and on July 1st next year, when the red flag goes up over Hong Kong, the 60 member body will replace the Legislative Council elected last year.

A 400 member committee, hand-picked by Beijing from Hong Kong's business and political elite, chose the interim assembly in the city hall of the Chinese city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, with China's Foreign Minister, Mr Qian Qichen, in the chair.

Mr Qian mocked British protests, quoting from a Chinese poem about "helplessly watching the flowers wither and fall".

What seems to have particularly annoyed Mr Patten and the pro-democracy groups is the fact that the interim body includes 10 of the losing candidates in the September 1995 elections for the Legislative Council, in which one million of Hong Kong's 6.3 million people took part.

And perhaps even more galling for.the governor is the fact that a majority of the members of his Legislative Council, including the speaker and 32 other incumbents, applied for and were given seats on the Beijing sponsored body.

The provisional legislature contains no members of the Democratic Party led by Mr Lee, which, is Hong Kong's, largest. It boycotted the proceedings as antidemocratic, though one prominent defector from the party, Mr Chan Choi-hi, was given a scat.

The legality of the interim legislature was angrily questioned in London by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Malcolm Rilkind, who challenged China to seek a ruling on the body at the International Court of Justice.

China's reply was contemptuous. Beijing's official spokesman in Hong Kong, Mr Zhang Junsheng, retorted. "Establishing the provisional legislature is an internal affair of China and if Britain demands international arbitration it is absurd and ignorant."

The only weapon available to Mr Patten and the British government appears to be bitter denunciation, as their end of colony reforms are brushed aside and power slips inexorably away in the run up to the Chinese takeover at midnight on June 30th.

None of Britain's allies joined in the call for international arbitration. The US State Department spokesman, Mr Nicholas Burns, said the choosing of the new body was a "worrisome development" and he hoped Beijing would hold new elections quickly. Australia's Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, urged that elections for a new legislature take place in 1998 as provided for by the 1984 Sino British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law for Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post noted that while Mr Patten remains in Government House for another six months, "the balance of power is tilting ever more strongly against him, towards `Beijing and those who will claim their legitimacy from the changes' July 1st will bring".

Pro Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong urged readers to accept the advice of Mr Qian and co-operate with the new provisional council.

In interviews in which he harshly denounced China and belittled the interim legislature, Mr Patten said. "Here we have members of this appointed echo chamber nominating one another, choosing one another, voting for one another." China was "taking over responsibility for a First World economy but they're trying to foist on us political institutions which a Third World country would reject . . . institutions which, frankly, you wouldn't try to run a tennis club with.

Mr Lee said the "flame of democracy" had been extinguished by China, but he was sure it would be ignited again. "We will be back in 1998 for the first legislative election." Mr Qian declared the contest to be "just, fair, open and based on democratic principles," and said that the inclusion of the Legislative Council members showed the new body was widely representative.

Up to 200 members of pro-democracy groups held noisy protests in Hong Kong at the weekend and dumped used lunch bags and paper dishes at the gates of Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

Mr Patten will today meet the chief-executive designate, Mr Tung Chee-hwa, for the first time since he was selected.