HONG KONG --Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said Sunday that the activities of the Falun Gong meditation sect - which he again described as a cult - will be watched "very carefully" in Hong Kong. Tung told reporters upon his arrival in Beijing earlier in the day to attend a meeting of the National People's Congress that the authorities won't allow "anybody including Falun Gong to create any disorder or instability in Hong Kong or on the mainland of China."
Beijing has outlawed Falun Gong on the mainland as an "evil cult" but the sect remains legal in Hong Kong, where it has annoyed Beijing by staging frequent protests against the Chinese crackdown.
Describing the sect as a cult, Tung added "we need to watch their development very, very carefully."
A transcript of Tung's remarks was released in Hong Kong by the government.
Recently, pro-Beijing figures in the territory have urged a clampdown on the Falun Gong, saying the government shouldn't allow Hong Kong to be used as a base for attacking China.
Pro-democracy campaigners and local religious groups in Hong Kong have expressed fear that any crackdown on the Falun Gong could undermine the high degree of autonomy the territory enjoys since reverting to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
BEIJING - Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji lashed out hard at the outlawed Falun Gong (news - web sites) spiritual movement on Monday but avoided criticism of the group's role in Hong Kong which would have fuelled anxiety there.
Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong, and the territory had been watching to see if Zhu's speech would add to concerns about Beijing's commitment to its promise of a high degree of autonomy to the former British colony.
Senior Chinese officials accused the Falun Gong last month of using Hong Kong as a platform to ``point its spears'' at China's ruling Communist Party, the most recent cause for alarm.
Analysts said any such criticism from Zhu would have stoked fears of an erosion of the autonomy Hong Kong was promised under the ``one country, two systems'' deal that returned the territory to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Its conspicuous absence triggered a sigh of relief.
``That says Beijing is letting the Hong Kong government take care of its own problems,'' said Allen Lee, a Hong Kong delegate to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament.
Political scientist Sonny Lo of Hong Kong University said: ''It gives the impression that the central government is avoiding interfering in Hong Kong affairs.''
In a speech opening the annual two-week session of the NPC, Zhu reiterated Beijing's hard line against Falun Gong, which he called a ``cult which has become a tool for domestic and overseas forces hostile to our socialist government.''
``We need to mete out severe punishment to the small number of criminals while making unremitting efforts to unite, educate and rescue the vast majority of people who have been taken in,'' he said of the movement China banned in July 1999.
He lumped Falun Gong together with terrorists, ethnic separatists and religious extremism as ``criminal activities that pose a threat to social order and national security.''
By avoiding the issue, Beijing was telling the world it would keep its promise of giving Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, said political analyst Lau Siu-kai at the Chinese University.
``The central government does not want to be seen as putting any pressure on the Hong Kong government to force it to act against the group,'' Lau said.
``If Zhu had made any comment, and if Hong Kong should deal harshly with the group, that would cause such an international furor and raise serious questions about Hong Kong's freedoms,'' he said.
Falun Gong outraged Beijing in January by staging an international conference in Hong Kong at which delegates denounced President Jiang Zemin (news - web sites) for a ruthless crackdown on the movement.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa appeared subsequently to toe Beijing's line by saying Falun Gong has some of the traits of an evil cult and that he would monitor its activities closely in Hong Kong, where there are about 500 members.
Lo said Beijing understood that the Hong Kong government knew what it should do without being told publicly.
``Beijing has stated its bottom line and doesn't want to say explicitly that Hong Kong must follow its policy directives. But of course Hong Kong knows what to do. It has already adhered to the bottom line,'' Lo said.
BEIJING - Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji vowed "severe punishment" for what he called a small number of criminals within the Falun Gong spiritual movement, but leniency for the rest.
In a speech prepared for delivery to the opening session of the National People's Congress later on Mobnday, Zhu made clear the crackdown on the Falun Gong would continue to be a top priority for the government.
The harsh crackdown has drawn international condemnation, most recently from the United Nations human rights chief Mary Robinson during a visit to Beijing last week.
"We need to mete out severe punishment to the small number of criminals while making unremitting efforts to unite, educate and rescue the vast majority of people who have been taken in," the speech said.
He lumped together the battle against Falun Gong with the fight against terrorists, ethnic separatists, and religious extremism.
MADISON HEIGHTS -- Banned and persecuted in China, the Falun Gong movement is finding a much friendlier reception in Oakland County.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a blend of exercises, meditation and quasi-Buddhist and Taoist principles. Banned in China since 1999, the sect has attracted devotees in Metro Detroit and racked up an impressive collection of proclamations and citations from local governments.
This week is Falun Dafa Week in the city of Madison Heights, where practitioners gave city council members a demonstration of the slow, graceful movements of Falun Gong exercises before collecting its latest honor.
"I've seen people doing these exercises before (in community parks), and now I know what it's all about," said city manager Jon Austin, adding that the proclamation was not meant to endorse a religion or political movement.
Falun Dafa followers deny that it is either of those things. "Asian-Americas are Madison Heights' largest minority population, about 3 to 4 percent of our entire population, and this request was made by members of that segment of our population," Austin added.
In recent months, the Oakland County Commissioners, the cities of Rochester Hills, Farmington Hills, Troy and the township of West Bloomfield have issued similar proclamations and declared honorary Falun Dafa days of their own. Around Metro Detroit, Wayne and Washtenaw counties and the cities of Ann Arbor and Roseville also have honored the group, as have U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. John Conyers.
A local Falun Dafa Web site, www.umich.edu/falun, lists a dozen Falun exercise or study groups around the region.
In China, the nine-year-old Falun Gong movement is condemned by the government as an evil cult with an insidious political will. Its practitioners reportedly outnumber official members of the Communist Party.
The government has admitted to arresting hundreds of group leaders for suspected subversive activities, but local human rights groups say tens of thousands of people have been rounded up and sent to reeducation camps, despite heavy criticism from the United States, United Nations and other governments.
Falun Dafa draws on the ancient breathing and meditation techniques of qi gong, the exercise movements of tai chi, a medly of spiritual teachings that aim to refine body, mind and moral character. The American Falun Dafa movement has distanced itself from the original movement, which also claims to help practitioners develop extrasensory perception and super-human powers.
BEIJING - Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji is set to take a tough line against the Falun Gong spiritual movement in a speech to lawmakers on Monday, while forecasting annual growth of around seven percent for the next five years.
Delegates who saw an advance copy of Zhu's speech to the National People's Congress (NPC) said he would call for a continuation of the fight against Falun Gong, which China has labelled an "evil cult", and urge the government to "strike a blow" against separatists, religious extremists and cults.
Zhu's text also called for an early solution to the question of Taiwan, which China considers part of its sovereign territory, reiterating Beijing's demand for peaceful reunification under the "one country, two systems" formula.
The government's five-year economic plan for 2001-05 and the problems of state industry and agriculture are also expected to feature strongly in the annual session of the legislature, which runs from March 5-15.
The 2,978 lawmakers -- hand-picked by local-level Communist Party officials across China -- will review plans to build a comprehensive social security system to cushion the blow of reform, and hear renewed vows to crack down on corruption.
Zhu's text forecast annual growth of seven percent for the next five years. Gross domestic product rose eight percent last year, and most economists see it rising 7.5-8 percent in 2001.
China will try to keep urban unemployment within five percent from 2001-2005 and create jobs for 40 million people no longer needed in the agriculture sector, Zhu's text said.
He was set to repeat China's goal of building a "modern corporate system" from the ailing state sector, delegates said.
Entrepreneurs urged President Jiang Zemin on Sunday to grant the private sector more rights to create jobs for workers laid off from state firms.
Police guarding Tiananmen Square next to parliament headquarters at the Great Hall of the People at the weekend had fire extinguishers at hand in a sign of vigilance against protests by Falun Gong members.
Adherents have often protested on the square since China banned the group in 1999. Five alleged Falun Gong members tried to burn themselves to death in January, and one woman died.
State media quoted official religious groups assembled or he NPC session as backing the crackdown on Falun Gong.
In a speech on Saturday, Ye Xuanping, vice chairman of an advisory body to the NPC, said "the struggle against the Falun Gong cult will be complex, protracted and acute".
Corruption remains a hot topic for China's lawmakers, who have taken an increasingly critical look both at massive state spending to stimulate the economy and on government claims of success in fighting officials who pocket state funds.
GRAFT PROVES HARD TO TAME
"China has continuously redoubled its anti-corruption efforts in recent years, but why do we still see so many big graft cases?" asked the popular Beijing Youth Daily on Sunday.
In an apparent attempt to highlight its anti-graft resolve before the NPC session, China sentenced seven people to death for tax fraud on Friday.
Some observers expect the scandal, centred on Guangdong province, to become the biggest corruption case of the Communist era, eclipsing a $6 billion smuggling case in Fujian province for which seven people were executed a week ago.
Premier Zhu Rongji will hold his annual news conference on the closing day of the conference in a live televised event that gives reporters their only chance of the year to put questions to the blunt-speaking champion of economic reforms.
For many analysts, the relatively powerless parliament pales in interest compared to manoeuvring in the run-up to the 16th Communist Party congress next year, when five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee are to retire.
They include party chief and state president Jiang Zemin, NPC Chairman Li Peng and Zhu. All three are due to retire from their government posts in 2003.
The NPC will offer a look at a new batch of provincial governors, some of whom could rise into top jobs as the "fourth generation" of Chinese leaders, following the eras of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang.
BEIJING - China's foreign policy tsar, Qian Qichen, will visit the United States from March 18 to 24, the foreign ministry announced on Sunday.
The visit by Vice Premier Qian, a foreign affairs veteran who oversees China's policy towards Taiwan, follows a warning last week by Beijing against new U.S. arms sales to the self-governing island.
Qian, who is expected to meet President George W. Bush during the visit, is likely to discuss the entire range of bilateral issues as Beijing sizes up the new Republican administration in Washington amid a host of sharpening disputes.
Bush's first major decision on China was to sponsor a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva faulting Beijing for a worsening human rights record. The resolution is bitterly opposed by Beijing and sparks tension every year.
China and the United States exchanged words last week after an annual report by the U.S. State Department said Beijing's human rights record deteriorated in 2000.
China accused Washington of hypocrisy and issued its own report listing U.S. rights problems, while Chinese officials said America was using the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement to meddle in its internal affairs.
FALUN GONG, IRAQ, TAIWAN
China interprets U.S. expressions of concern about violations of civil and religious rights in its crackdown on Falun Gong as support for the movement, which Beijing says is a brainwashing "evil cult" that has caused 1,600 deaths.
The Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po said on Sunday that Qian would explain China's approach to Falun Gong during his visit.
China has sought sympathy for its crackdown on Falun Gong by comparing it to Japan's battle against the Aum Shinri Kyo sect or with Western countries' experiences with suicidal cults.
China moved last week to defuse potential trouble over U.S. complaints that Chinese workers may have helped Iraq rebuild its air defences.
The Foreign Ministry insisted that China respected U.N. resolutions on Iraq and had rules that forced Chinese companies to comply. But it said it was willing to investigate the allegations, raised by Pentagon officials.
Qian is also expected to keep up Chinese pressure on Washington aimed at halting new weapons sales to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
Last week, Zhou Mingwei, deputy head of the Chinese cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference in Washington "the most painful and destructive experience for the U.S.-China relationship is arms sales to Taiwan which we don't want to see."
Bush must make a decision in April on a new high-tech weapons shopping list put forth by Taiwan and some U.S. lawmakers have said the new administration is more sympathetic to the democratic island's defence needs than its predecessor.
HONG KONG - Protesters accused the Hong Kong government on Sunday of undermining the territory's autonomy by toeing Beijing's line in criticising the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Eight pro-democracy activists condemned senior officials' recent criticism of the Falun Gong, with the latest being remarks by Security Secretary Regina Ip this week that the group was "heretical" and encouraged superstition.
"(They are) spreading evil fallacies to deceive people!" the protesters chanted as they marched to the government's headquarters.
They burned a broom with a paper face, saying it symbolised Ip, whose nickname is "Broom's Head" due to her hair style.
"I hope Mrs Ip, when she sees this, can understand the feeling members of Falun Gong have -- when you are accused of being superstitious and actually you just have your own religious belief," said Gary Fan, a spokesman for the protesters, who belonged to the Social Democracy Forum.
"We think Mrs Ip doesn't have concrete evidence that members of Falun Gong violate Hong Kong law," he added.
"In human history, there have been so many tragedies being caused by different kinds of government who used the same excuse (that they are) superstitious, to control, to suppress ... their religious belief," Fan said.
They urged the administration to sack Ip, who is not the first government official to make unfavourable comments on Falun Gong.
Last month, Hong Kong's Beijing appointed leader Tung Chee-hwa said the movement had some traits of an "evil cult."
The demonstrators said the movement should not be branded as an "evil cult" as long as they violated no law.
Falun Gong is banned in mainland China but legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 as a highly autonomous territory.
Pressure has escalated on the local government to take a tougher stance towards the group since 1,000 Falun Gong followers held a two-day international conference at Hong Kong's City Hall in January. They condemned Chinese President Jiang Zemin and China's crackdown on the group.
In Beijing, Zeng Jianhui, spokesman for the National People's Congress (NPC), told a news conference China's parliament was "very much concerned" about recent Falun Gong activities in Hong Kong.
"We believe the government of Hong Kong will deal with the Falun Gong issue in strict accordance with the 'one country, two systems' principle, the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and other laws of that special administrative region from the standpoint of protecting the interests of Hong Kong citizens," Zeng said.
BEIJING --The government's top advisory body Saturday indicated no change in Chinese policies aimed at isolating Taiwan's new leader and snuffing out the outlawed Falun Gong meditation sect.
The Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress will deal only with people and groups in Taiwan that support unification with China, said the body's Chairman Ye Xuanping in an annual report.
Ye also pledged the body's backing for Beijing's strategy of punishing hard core Falun Gong followers while offering leniency to the rank and file in hopes of turning them against the group.
The opening of the CPPCC's session kicks off China's political high season and sets the tone for the meeting of the National People's Congress, China's legislature, that starts Monday and runs concurrently.
While largely powerless, the CPPCC helps the Communist Party rally support for its policies and connect with a broad sweep of society. Its 2,266 delegates are drawn from influential scientists, religious leaders, ethnic minorities, writers and others.
Ye's report appears to signal a continuance of China's strategy of refusing to engage with Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. Since his election last spring, Chen has refused to accept China's preconditions for talks and says unification with the mainland is just one of many options for the island.
The CPPCC will "resolutely oppose any separatist attempts" while expanding contacts with pro-unification opposition parties, Ye told delegates assembled in Beijing's colossal Great Hall of The People.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing threatens to attack the island if it formally declares independence or stalls too long on unification.
Reiterating government statements issued after the crackdown on Falun Gong failed to end public protests by sect members, Ye warned the struggle against the group will be "complex, protracted and acute."
China banned Falun Gong in July 1999 as an "evil cult," and has relentlessly campaigned to break up its organization, imprison leaders and turn followers against its founder, former government clerk Li Hongzhi, now living in the U.S.
"We must support the government in bringing back, educating and redeeming the overwhelming majority of Falun Gong practitioners and severely dealing with a handful of criminals according to the law," Ye said.
During its 10-day session, the CPPCC plans to discuss and adopt proposals to the National People's Congress on China's tenth five-year plan for economic development and a range of social and economic issues.
Singapore's Falun Buddha Society hit out at local media yesterday, complaining that slanted and incomplete coverage was undermining the group's image.
Society chairman Tian Moon Toon also claimed requests to buy advertising space in leading local papers to try to explain its point of view had been turned down.
Mr Tian said society press releases went unreported, letters to newspaper editors were not published and requests for advertising space in the Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao , both Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) dailies, were denied. Representatives of SPH declined to comment.
The allegations come as Falun Gong adherents are assuming a higher profile in Singapore, becoming more assertive over the mainland crackdown against its followers.
Fifteen Falun Gong members were arrested in Singapore after a protest gathering on Lunar New Year's Eve and face charges of unlawful assembly and obstructing the police.
In the wake of the arrests, government ministers said the Falun Buddha Society, which was registered in 1996, was welcome to operate as long as its members abided by the rule of law.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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