- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

HONG KONG (Agence France-Presse) — The two astronauts on China’s second manned spaceflight touched down in Hong Kong yesterday for a visit aimed at boosting Chinese nationalism amid a constitutional row in the former British colony.

TV images showed Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng being greeted by dozens of Chinese flag-waving schoolchildren in a ceremony at Hong Kong’s airport yesterday morning.

Wearing blue air force fatigues, the two were accompanied by more than 30 scientists and other officials who oversaw the 115-hour, 32-minute space mission last month aboard the Shenzhou VI spacecraft.

Later, they were guests of honor at a star-studded open-air variety show at Hong Kong Stadium.

Local pop stars, celebrities and dancers performed before Mr. Fei and Mr. Nie took the stage to deafening cheers from about 35,000 spectators. They were introduced to the audience by the city’s Beijing-appointed chief executive, Donald Tsang.

Mr. Fei and Mr. Nie arrived a day after they were awarded the title “hero taikonaut” at a ceremony in Beijing. During their stay in Hong Kong, they will dine with political leaders, meet local scientists and open several seasonal tourist attractions.

Although the official reason for the three-day visit was to share knowledge with Hong Kong’s scientific community, the hastily arranged trip is widely considered an attempt to rally support for the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government amid a feud with democracy advocates over the city’s political future.

Mr. Tsang’s administration faces an embarrassing revolt in the legislature against an electoral reform package aimed at quelling a growing clamor for full democracy in the former colony ruled by Britain from 1842 until 1997.

Democrats, who say the measures do not go far enough toward universal suffrage, have sufficient support to vote down the proposal, possibly causing a constitutional crisis.

A huge street protest is planned this week to mark public opposition to the move.

Astronaut Yang Liwei, who completed China’s first manned space mission, was similarly sent to Hong Kong in 2003 to boost nationalistic awareness after a huge anti-government street demonstration that helped end the administration of leader Tung Chee-hwa.

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