ON Tiananmen anniversary, Hong Kong leader defends China

Monday, June 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONG KONG (AP) _ Hong Kong's chief executive made an unusual public appearance on Monday's anniversary of the 1989 army crushing of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests, heatedly defended Chinese leaders against criticism of their suppression of public dissent.

Tung Chee-hwa's speech to the World Newspaper Association was his first public appearance on the anniversary since he became Hong Kong's No. 1 leader when the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.

Speaking ahead of Tung, association president Roger Parkinson praised Hong Kong's civil liberties, guaranteed under a ``one-country, two-systems'' arrangement that protects Hong Kong's capitalist, Western-style freedoms. But Parkinson criticized the Chinese government for its limits on public dissent.

``In all fairness, we must commend the Chinese government for keeping its word and staying true to its commitment to uphold or tolerate in Hong Kong those freedoms which it continues to withhold from the other 1.3 billion people in this nation,'' said Parkinson, whose group works to defend press freedoms worldwide.

Each year on June 4, exercising liberties not allowed Chinese living in the mainland, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents hold a candlelight vigil to commemorate the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were killed when tanks and troops shot their way into Beijing to end the 1989 student-led demonstrations.

In his speech, Tung did not refer directly to June 4 or to Chinese limits on press, assembly and use of the Internet. But he said he had ``noticed the comments'' made by Parkinson.

``I do not speak for China,'' Tung said, ``but I'm proud and I'm patriotic.''

``Indeed, today China is far more open, far more stable and far more prosperous than at any time in her recent history,'' Tung said. ``You should appreciate that the current leadership in China is one of the most enlightened and progressive in our history.''

Tung urged the journalists attending the gathering to visit China and ``hear the voices of people everywhere.''

``I'm confident that having seen things for yourselves your views will be different,'' he added.

Addressing the annual conference of more than 1,000 newspaper executives, Parkinson upbraided China's leaders for imprisoning journalists and for limiting the ``exchange of ideas'' at the same time that it is allowing unprecedented openness regarding business and trade.

At least six ``cyberjournalists'' and 22 print reporters or editors were imprisoned in China, he noted.