Albright: A pro-democracy demonstrator in Hong Kong
HONG KONG (AP) _ To Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the pomp and pyrotechnics accompanying tonight’s return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty will all be meaningless if this glittering outpost is stripped of its democracy.
In a message to the Chinese, Albright planned to boycott the installation of the new local legislature because it consists of unelected lawmakers beholden to Beijing and replaces the freely elected legislature.
Albright also has expressed concern about China’s decision to dispatch 4,000 troops along with armored vehicles to Hong Kong just hours after the transfer of sovereignty from Britain becomes official, ending 156 years of colonial rule.
``I personally think it’s not the best first signal,″ she said.
Albright was one of about 4,000 VIPs, and the highest-ranking American among 400 foreign guests, planning to witness the ``handover″ ceremony that gets under way after a fireworks display and a lavish banquet.
After the Union Jack was lowered for the last time, Albright planned to transform herself from celebrant to pro-democracy dissident.
At about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, she was prepared to leave the festivities, skipping the swearing-in of the legislature and of other members of the new government.
Albright wanted no part of a ceremony that swaps an elected body for an unelected one. ``It is contrary to the popular will,″ she said Sunday.
With the exception of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, all other foreign delegations were expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony at senior levels.
Among the democratic countries, all believe a protest is premature at this point but all can be counted on to pressure the Chinese if they renege on promises to hold free elections, U.S. officials said.
Albright met this morning aboard the royal yacht Britannia with Cook, who thanked the American envoy for her support. He also suggested he has no quarrel with the 11-month time frame for legislative elections outlined by the incoming leadership.
``There must be restored free and fair elections for the new democratic legislative council as soon as possible and in any event within 12 months,″ Cook said.
With the Britannia as an imposing backdrop, Albright expressed hope that Hong Kong’s new leadership will understand that ``the Hong Kong of tomorrow must look like the Hong Kong of today _ ``and that is a Hong Kong that is free, a Hong Kong in which personal freedoms exist and will not be squeezed out.″
She delivered that same message at a subsequent meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen.
Rather than boycott the swearing-in ceremony altogether, both the United States and Britain were being represented at the oath-taking by mid-level envoys. The rationale, according to officials, is that both countries have important business here and must work with the new government.
As for the troop deployment, Cook acknowledged that China has a right to send forces to Hong Kong but said the rules require they be used only for external defense, not for internal security.
Looking at the broader picture, the British official said there is more confidence in Hong Kong’s future than anyone could have predicted five years ago.
``We are in a city in which the stock exchange is rising, property prices are rising, investment is leaping upwards and perhaps most important of all, there are more people coming to Hong Kong to stay than are leaving Hong Kong,″ he said.