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China To Curtail Freedoms In Hong Kong

A caucus of top Chinese officials and their handpicked Hong Kong advisers, meeting behind closed doors in Beijing, gave final approval Saturday to plans for scaling back some civil-liberty laws and protections in Hong Kong after China takes charge in five months.

The 150-member Preparatory Committee, the Chinese body overseeing the handover of this British colony, voted overwhelmingly to endorse the rollback of Hong Kong’s civil liberties.

The action, while expected, dashed a hope held by many that the full Preparatory Committee might respond to local and international criticism by backtracking on Beijing’s plans to curtail the freedoms.

The plans include changing the bill of rights, restoring police power to ban protests and restricting foreign funding of local groups.

China has said the modifications are needed because the laws in question contradict the territory’s Basic Law, which is the document negotiated between Britain and China that will serve as the constitution for the territory after China assumes control on July 1.

But Chinese officials have yet to spell out how the laws being scrapped contradict the Basic Law.

China’s legal reasoning has drawn skepticism from some of Beijing’s normal supporters in Hong Kong.

“I could not find anything that is contradicting to the Basic Law,” said Allen Lee, chairman of the probusiness Liberal Party.

Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s British governor, kept up his drumbeat of criticism, calling Saturday’s vote in Beijing “very disturbing.”

“What we are still not told is why it is necessary to restrict Hong Kong’s civil liberties,” Patten said in a statement.

“Once again we have the impression of legal arguments hastily thrown together, policies made up as we go along.”

The latest wrangling is being watched warily by Taiwanese as a harbinger of how China eventually intends to pursue unification talks with them.

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