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On a gray day, newly Chinese Hong Kong hopes for a bright future

July 1, 1997

HONG KONG (AP) _ Starting briskly, Hong Kong launched its new life as part of China today with pageantry and purpose, inaugurating a new leader, a new legislature, even a new symphony of its very own.

Chinese authorities responded tolerantly to early challenges, with police halting downtown traffic for a peaceful march by about 3,000 pro-democracy activists.

Newly sworn-in lawmakers worked through the night to ratify bills they approved earlier, including one that would allow police to ban such demonstrations. Then they emerged into Hong Kong’s foggy, rain-soaked first dawn under Chinese rule.

Ten hours after the handover, in the same building, new Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and Chinese President Jiang Zemin joined a mostly Chinese crowd of dignitaries at an elaborate celebration of the territory’s new identity.

``Today is a momentous day for China. Today is a joyous day for all Chinese people,″ Tung said. He promised to forge a future of economic prosperity and continued rule of law.

The morning-after celebration featured a 20-minute symphony called ``Heaven, Earth, Mankind,″ written just for the handover.

Jiang seemed buoyant and unaffected by the late hours he kept while swearing-in the Beijing-backed legislature. In a spirited speech, he welcomed Hong Kong home.

``The flesh-and-blood bond between mainland people and Hong Kong compatriots had never been severed, nor had their shared sentiment for the well-being of the nation,″ Jiang said before flying back to China’s capital.

Later, Jiang gave a nationally televised speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, saying Hong Kong’s promised autonomy could be a model for Taiwan if it, too, returns to Chinese rule.

Beijing hopes success in Hong Kong will lure Taiwan, run by the rival nationalist government, into talks on reunification. The island’s democratically elected government has balked at surrendering autonomy to the unelected Communists. Some 50,000 of its people demonstrated against China last week.

After 156 years of British colonial rule, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty today at eight seconds after midnight with the ascent of China’s flag at a handover ceremony.

Chris Patten, the last colonial governor, glumly ceded power and left town an hour later, sailing away on the royal yacht Britannia with Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.

Behind him sat an ambivalent city of 6.3 million people both excited about returning to their roots and apprehensive about the role the Chinese government will play in their future.

``We really hope the Chinese government can take good care of us, keep its promises,″ said Dick Loo, 34, a clothing salesman. ``Things are stable here and we want them to remain stable.″

The question of continued stability rests largely on Beijing, which promises laissez-faire oversight under the ``one country, two systems″ principle of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who died in February.

Deng, who engineered China’s economic reforms in the 1980s, devised ``one country, two systems″ as a template for reunification with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

But it is in Hong Kong where Deng’s idea is actually unfolding _ and where the Chinese stand to lose or gain big. Deng’s widow, Zhuo Lin, attended today’s celebration and was given a round of applause.

From Jiang down, Chinese officials are bursting with exuberance at Hong Kong’s return to the fold and are already mentioning it as the first step toward reassembling China’s fragmented pieces.

``Let the entire Chinese people, our compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and the overseas Chinese included, get united,″ Jiang said.

Hong Kong’s new, unelected legislature went straight to work for a public that, polls show, has little confidence in its credibility.

It caused no surprise that the legislators ratified laws already approved June 14 empowering police to ban demonstrations and prohibiting foreign donations to political parties. The package was approved by a voice vote without opposition.

Paul Cheng, a new legislator, urged people to support the China-backed legislature and ignore British and U.S. assertions that it is undemocratic.

``Rise above the sound bites and headlines to continue to support us, to have faith in our ability to propel Hong Kong to new heights,″ Cheng said.

Tung has promised new legislative elections by mid-1998.

As celebrations unfolded in the city, the Chinese army poured troops into the rural New Territories at dawn in long convoys of trucks, jeeps, buses and armored personnel carriers. Helicopters and navy ships brought in the rest of the 4,000 troop deployment.

Britain had protested the use of armored vehicles, saying they would frighten people. But they were met by hundreds of people lining the road in pelting rain, waving flags, banging cymbals and applauding. Some officers got out of their cars to greet the crowds, who threw garlands around the officers’ necks.

A poll taken Monday found 35.1 percent of people used positive words to describe the handover, up from 29 percent Sunday.

Signs of an attitude shift were everywhere. At today’s ceremony, the mainland Mandarin dialect was in full use alongside Hong Kong’s native Cantonese. Taxis displayed Hong Kong’s new flag.

The scattered post-handover protests _ including the march, which ended with delivery of a pro-democracy statement to Tung’s office _ made clear, too, that worry endured on the rainy day after. But for many of Hong Kong’s people, ruminations about the future were overshadowed by the simple fact that something so long in the making had finally come about.

``We washed out the old order and washed in the new, ″ said Rosemary Inglis, a businesswoman whose grandfather settled in Hong Kong. ``During Chinese New Year, if it rains a little bit, it’s considered lucky. So we must have a lot of luck coming.″

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