- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

From combined dispatches

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong security chief resigned yesterday amid a crisis over a stringent antisubversion bill that was halted by massive protests.

Secretary for Security Regina Ip said she resigned “entirely due to personal reasons,” but she expressed concern the internal security bill was “not completed as scheduled” despite her efforts.

Hong Kong’s financial secretary, Antony Leung, also resigned yesterday as prosecutors considered criminal charges against him for buying a luxury car just weeks before he raised auto taxes. The resignation was not connected to the internal security bill.

The government also said Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, whose own popularity has plummeted in the Chinese territory, would visit Beijing this weekend to brief China’s leaders on developments in Hong Kong.

Critics said Mrs. Ip’s resignation was inevitable after her handling of the contentious bill threw Hong Kong’s government into its biggest crisis since the hand over from British to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

“As a Chinese national and the secretary for security, I sincerely believe I have a responsibility to actively promote this highly important legislative task,” Mrs. Ip said.

Mr. Tung said Mrs. Ip, 52, had proposed stepping down on June 25 for personal reasons, and that he argued she should stay, suggesting she take a leave instead.

“But regrettably I could not change her decision,” Mr. Tung said.

Mrs. Ip was one of the least popular members of Mr. Tung’s inner circle and derided by the unflattering nickname “Broomhead” by critics who took aim at her headline-grabbing hair perms.

Ever since the hand over, Hong Kong has been constitutionally required to outlaw subversion in a national security bill. But critics say the government went too far with a measure that would clamp down on local freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

Mrs. Ip rejected such worries and pushed hard to have the bill passed on July 9 as scheduled, but the government had to back down following a July 1 protest by a half-million people.

Last year, she rebuffed critics of the planned law by saying: “Don’t believe democracy will be a panacea. Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage and he killed 7 million Jews.”

In a statement released yesterday, she said: “In formulating the proposals, we have tried our best to strike a balance between protecting national security and safeguarding Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms.”

After the protest march, Mr. Tung’s government was forced to water down parts of the bill, but he first tried to get it passed on schedule. That effort collapsed as legislative support eroded, and the bill was shelved. It now remains in limbo.

Critics said the measure was too harsh, outlawing subversion, treason, sedition and other crimes against the state with life in prison for some offenses.

Opposition lawmakers, rights activists and others said it would have been difficult for Mrs. Ip to continue working for some form of a security bill, which is required under the territory’s Basic Law, after the earlier legislation she backed had faced such strong opposition.

“Unfortunately, her style was completely wrong for this particular task and so it seems that it is inevitable that she would have to go,” Independent lawmaker Margaret Ng said.

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