President Clinton met Friday with Hong Kong’s leading popularly elected politician to underline American support for preserving democracy in the territory following its reversion to Chinese rule.
Clinton told Hong Kong Democratic Party leader Martin Lee that a political crackdown by Beijing could seriously damage U.S.-Chinese relations, the White House said.
With 73 days to go before China assumes control over the former British colony, Hong Kong has emerged as a potential threat to the Clinton administration’s strategy of “engaging” China. Any attempt by the communist authorities in Beijing to stifle the freedoms enjoyed by the 6 million people of Hong Kong could lead to an anti-China backlash in the United States.
“The United States has to make it clear that Hong Kong is important to us (and) the people of Hong Kong are important,” Clinton told reporters after meeting Lee. The president called on Beijing to abide by the terms of a 1984 agreement with Britain that, in his words, “commits China to respect not only the economic liberties, but also the political and civil liberties” of Hong Kong’s people.
Lee, who has earlier been critical of the Clinton administration for not paying sufficient attention to Hong Kong, said he was pleased by his reception in the White House and a meeting earlier this week with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
He told reporters that he now had “no doubts” about the willingness of the U.S. government to “defend Hong Kong’s freedoms.”
Lee, who was the top vote-getter in elections for the Hong Kong legislature in September 1995, is regarded as a dangerous firebrand by Beijing. The Chinese government reacted sharply earlier this week to his meeting with Albright, accusing him of “relying on foreigners to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs.”
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