AP NEWS
Related topics

Britain’s Blair Defends China Policy

October 9, 1998

HONG KONG (AP) _ Better ties between Britain and China can only benefit Hong Kong, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday, disappointing pro-democracy politicians on his first trip to the former colony since it returned to Chinese rule.

Blair called the transfer of the capitalist territory to the communist mainland a success, saying China has kept its side of the bargain and honored its commitments to Britain.

The British leader defended the closer relations he has engineered with China, saying Britain’s trade and investment dealings with the mainland must be allowed to thrive.

``For Britain and China to be free to develop relations is in the interest of Hong Kong,″ Blair told reporters.

Blair arrived Friday for a two-day visit in Hong Kong, the last stop on his China tour. The visit is his first since he attended ceremonies in July 1997 when Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

Martin Lee, leader of Hong Kong’s major opposition Democratic Party, accused Blair of shelving human rights and democracy in favor of maintaining profitable trade and investment links with the mainland.

``This particular visit did not seem to produce the results we expected,″ he said.

Lee noted that Hong Kong residents turned out in record numbers in May to vote in the first legislative elections in Hong Kong under Chinese rule. Pro-democracy candidates scored significant victories.

``It’s a pity that despite the high voter turnout, no attempt has been made to quicken the pace of democracy″ in the former British colony, Lee said.

The human rights group Amnesty International also described Blair’s visit to China as a summit of ``missed opportunities.″

The lack of substance in Blair’s public statements ``failed to respect the suffering of tens of thousands of Chinese victims of human rights abuse,″ Amnesty’s director in Britain, David Bull, said in a statement.

Blair said human rights issues such as freedom and dissent were raised in his meetings with Chinese leaders.

Addressing a group of business leaders earlier, Blair said the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other agencies must help strengthen social support systems, public health and education in countries swept by Asia’s deepening financial crisis.

Blair urged nations in financial turmoil to ``keep their nerve″ and hold fast to prudent fiscal policies, while strengthening social safety nets for the poor.

``People have lost their jobs, their homes, their savings because of a crisis that certainly had nothing to do with any failings on their part,″ he said.