Blair Accepts Invitation to China
As the dispute over the future of democracy in Hong Kong continues, Tony Blair has accepted an invitation from Chinese President Jiang Zemin to visit Beijing next year.
The announcement was made by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, at a news conference in Hong Kong. "I will return to Hong Kong and will visit Beijing to make sure that our relations with both are strong. Next year Mr Blair will pay his first visit as Prime Minister to China," Mr Cook said.
Mr Blair held talks with President Jiang shortly before Hong Kong was formally returned to China on Monday. Mr Cook described the meeting as "good and important", adding that both leaders regarded Hong Kong as the basis for a stronger relationship between London and Beijing.
The Foreign Secretary told reporters that he had won a pledge from his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, not to send Chinese troops onto the streets of Hong Kong in armoured cars. Mr Qian said that the troops were there strictly for external defence, and not internal security.
Mr Cook told the citizens of Hong Kong that Britain "will walk with you". He said that Britain had won assurances that elections would be held in May next year and that these would be closely monitored "to satisfy ourselves that those elections are really free and fair."
Hong Kong legislator Raymond Ho tells the BBC that democracy in Hong Kong is secure
One country, two systems?
If China backtracked on its election promise, Mr Cook said, Britain could turn to the United Nations to resolve the dispute. Under the 1984 Chinese-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong has 50 years of autonomy under China's "one country, two systems" formula.
Mr Cook concluded that he was returning to Britain feeling that there were "more pluses than minuses" in the handover process. However, he condemned the dismissal of Hong Kong's elected legislative council, praising leading pro-democracy activist Martin Lee for his "mature and restrained protest."
The democracy issues is unlikely to die down, despite Chinese assurances. Less than 24 hours after China took over Hong Kong, thousands of demonstrators marched in heavy rain through central Hong Kong. They chanted: "We Want Democracy - We Want It Now". One demonstrator remarked: "Hong Kong doesn't have enough democracy now, and if we go backwards, we'll have even less."