- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s chief executive, Tung Chee Hwa, announced his resignation yesterday, after more than a week of rumors that he was about to quit and that Chinese leaders had orchestrated his departure.

Mr. Tung told a press conference that he had tendered his resignation to the central government in Beijing because of declining health, saying he suffered from exhaustion and a weakened immune system after nearly eight years of working 16 to 18 hours a day.

The 67-year-old leader yesterday appeared relaxed and cheerful, if a bit tired.

He told reporters he had chosen this time to retire because “the Hong Kong economy is now well on its way to recovery. The political and social environment of the entire community has stabilized.”

Mr. Tung denied that Beijing had asked him to resign.

“The central government has repeatedly affirmed the work that I and my colleagues have done,” he said.

Beijing handpicked Mr. Tung, a wealthy shipping tycoon whose family had economic ties with China, to be Hong Kong’s first chief executive after the territory’s 1997 return to China.

Until lately, Beijing consistently has backed Mr. Tung, despite his growing unpopularity.

Word of Mr. Tung’s plans to leave was leaked to Hong Kong reporters by delegates to the National People’s Congress in Beijing early last week, prompting speculation that Beijing had orchestrated his departure two years before the end of his second five-year term.

“It’s great that Mr. Tung has stepped down, but we don’t want him to go in this way,” Albert Cheng, a former radio talk show host who was elected to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in September, told United Press International.

“We have to go by the law; he should have come and reported to us. It indicates a total disrespect for Leg Co,” Mr. Cheng, referring to the council.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States had “worked constructively with Mr. Tung.”

“Whoever is chosen to replace him, we will continue to strongly support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people for democracy through electoral reform and universal suffrage, as provided for by the Basic Law and the framework of one country, two systems,” Mr. Ereli said.

Several lawmakers have voiced concerns that Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s affairs goes against the spirit and the letter of the Basic Law, the territory’s de facto constitution.

Beijing academics and analysts who voice government viewpoints in official Chinese press have said Mr. Tung’s replacement will serve out the remaining two years of his term.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Donald Tsang, who becomes acting chief executive as soon as Mr. Tung’s resignation is accepted by Beijing, is expected to be confirmed to fill the two-year vacancy.

Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report from Washington.

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