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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Firm on Plan to Disband Council

BEIJING -- Chinese Premier Li Peng told Britain's foreign secretary Wednesday that Beijing is determined to disband Hong Kong's legislature when it resumes sovereignty over the British colony in 1997.

Li made the remark to Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind in a meeting at the state guest house, Diaoyutai. Rifkind, who arrived Tuesday for his first visit as foreign secretary, has repeatedly emphasized that Britain would try to persuade the Chinese to change their position on Hong Kong's Legislative Council.

But he told reporters after the meeting with Li: "Sadly but not surprisingly, he repeated the known Chinese position with regard to Legco."

China has promised that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy after Beijing regains sovereignty July 1, 1997, and that the territory's freewheeling capitalist system will be left unchanged for at least 50 years.

But, over Hong Kong's protests, it also has vowed to disband the colony's legislature and other elected bodies because of democratic reforms introduced by the British governor, Chris Patten, against Beijing's wishes.

Patten's reforms poisoned relations between China and Britain. Ties have been on the mend only since last October, when Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen visited London.

Rifkind cited the agreements reached during his visit as signs of closer cooperation. They include an agreement signed Wednesday in Hong Kong for China to issue passports for Hong Kong residents after 1997, a Chinese pledge to allow all current permanent residents of Hong Kong to maintain that status after the handover, and China's go-ahead for a container terminal to ensure Hong Kong's future as a major trading port.

Rifkind said he raised human rights issues with Li, including a human rights group's allegation of a nationwide policy of deliberately starving orphans to control orphanage populations in China.

Rifkind said Li invited him to visit the Shanghai orphanage that the U.S. rights group used as an example of the alleged starvation practice.