Beijing, July 19 (Reuters): China threw besieged Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa a political lifeline today with a strong endorsement of his leadership after massive protests led to demands for his resignation at home.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao backed Tung’s government, which was thrown into crisis after half-a-million people took to the streets to denounce an anti-subversion Bill in the biggest protest since 1989.
“The government led by Tung Chee-hwa can definitely lead the Hong Kong people to overcome their current difficulties,” Wen said, adding he was confident the Hong Kong people would recognise the need to maintain stability in the territory.
Publicly, Beijing offered no sign of displeasure with Tung, who had sought — and won — its renewed blessing after three weeks of crisis, which led Tung to shelve the security Bill and brought the resignations of two unpopular lieutenants.
But behind closed doors, diplomats said leaders might have pressed Tung to explain how he underestimated the July 1 protests, the largest since the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in June 1989.
Tung appeared relaxed at Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People in meetings with Hu and vice-president Zeng Qinghong, a key ally of Tung’s patron, former President Jiang Zemin.
The chief executive received a warm welcome from Hu, who according to the Xinhua news agency praised Tung for his “great contribution made in successfully implementing the ‘one country, two systems’” formula governing Hong Kong and in maintaining its prosperity and stability.
Hu also endorsed Tung’s climbdown on the controversial security Bill, but indicated China still expected Tung to push for it.
Tung said he won backing from Wen to expand access for Hong Kong firms in telecommunications, tourism and financial services.