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Tung seeks China support

Hong Kong, July 18 (Reuters): Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa, besieged by calls to resign, will be seeking crucial backing when he visits Chinese leaders who have been alarmed by massive protests and calls for greater democracy in the city.

Reeling from a loss of public confidence in his government, Tung, who visits Beijing tomorrow, needs fresh endorsement and support from his political masters, who command far more respect in Hong Kong than he does, analysts said.

“Most people in Hong Kong, even the elite, now hold the consensus that he is unfit to govern. So he really needs the open support of Beijing. It holds the trump card,” said Li Pang-kwong, a politics lecturer at Lingnan University.

Tung is expected to meet President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing to discuss Hong Kong’s worst political crisis in years.

and his plans to revive the sickly economy.

He is also expected to seek China's blessings for the new security and financial secretaries after two of his top ministers resigned, adding to political uncertainty in the city.

Widely seen as stubborn and distant, Tung faces growing calls to quit over the government's plan to enact a controversial anti-subversion law, a string of policy blunders, the recent SARS outbreak and its failure to revive the sickly economy.

Hundreds of thousands of people took part in a series of protests in recent weeks to express their rage, shocking Beijing. It is the biggest political crisis in years in Hong Kong, the former British colony handed back to China in 1997.

Adding to Tung's woes, the government said on Thursday unemployment had surged to a record 8.6 percent and economists expect more people will lose their jobs in coming months.

On Wednesday, Security Secretary Regina Ip and Financial Secretary Antony Leung announced their resignations, raising more questions about the administration's ability to govern one of the world's top financial centres.

CHINA LEADRS TO REAFFIRM SUPPORT

China's leaders are expected to reaffirm support for the Hong Kong government, but possibly not Tung himself, as a tacit acknowledgement that he has not done a good enough job, analysts said.

Privately, he could face a dressing down for allowing public unrest to fester to the point where the survival of the government has been threatened.

”I think Beijing was caught off guard. There's certainly going to be a certain amount of asking Tung how he miscalculated,” said a western diplomat in mainland China.

Despite widespread anger with Tung's China-backed administration, public opinion of Chinese leaders in Hong Kong remains high. Wen received a rousing welcome when he visited the city for the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong's 1997 return to China.

Though many in Hong Kong worry China could meddle in its affairs and erode basic rights, they are also acutely aware that China and its booming economy offer Hong Kong a chance for economic salvation after years of socially corrosive stagnation.

Tung said on Thursday he would not resign and promised a new era of openness, with a new round of public consultation to be held on the subversion bill.

”If Tung steps down the Communist Party will be yielding to the democrats and a sign they did not manage Hong Kong well,” said an analyst in mainland China who follows Hong Kong affairs.

But some political observers in Hong Kong say his days in power may be numbered.

”After the passage of the bill, they may let him go, giving health reasons,” said a senior government official here.

Hong Kong newspapers were largely dismissive on Friday of Tung's pledge to be more responsive, with some saying nothing short of universal suffrage would be needed to defuse the crisis.

”Only a directly elected chief executive will understand the principle that the citizens are the real masters, understand that it is the right of the people to make decisions, and really listen to the wishes of the people,” the Apple Daily said.

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