HONG KONG (AP) - The top U.S. diplomat in Hong Kong said Washington is watching recent controversies over free speech and politics to see whether they are ``bumps along its new path or portents of difficulty ahead'' under Chinese sovereignty.
In a speech in Texas that was posted on his official Internet site, Consul-General Michael Klosson cited warnings from Beijing about news reporting and local activities of the Falun Gong spiritual sect. He also noted the pending departure of the last high-ranking official to be appointed during British colonial days.
Hong Kong retains many of its Western ways, and Klosson said it can serve as a good example, showing mainland China ``its own potential future - a way toward prosperity that rests on openness, tolerance, the rule of law, sound management and transparent dealings.''
Klosson said Hong Kong has remained vibrant and free since returning to China in July 1997, but in a speech Thursday in Houston, he noted several incidents that raised concerns. The consulate has posted the speech on the Internet.
Some thorny local issues ``highlight that Hong Kong's situation merits continued attention from the United States and other major partners which have interests at stake,'' Klosson said.
Almost a year ago, a senior mainland official based in Hong Kong warned local media not to report the viewpoint of Taiwanese independence advocates as ``normal news.'' Another mainland official told Hong Kong businessmen they should not trade with Taiwanese companies seen as supporting independence for the island.
China and Taiwan separated politically amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing says Taiwan must reunite with the mainland someday, even if that requires a war. Most Taiwanese are leery of accepting Beijing's terms.
Klosson also noted the recent controversy over Falun Gong's activities in Hong Kong.
Beijing has outlawed the meditation sect as an ``evil cult'' and is waging an often-violent crackdown on the mainland. Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, but Beijing and local allies are furious at recent campaigns here attacking the suppression in China.
They are seeking a crackdown, and some observers say Hong Kong's response will be one of the most crucial tests of its freedoms.
Klosson said Washington also was concerned about the departure of Hong Kong's No. 2 government official, Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan.
Chan was appointed by the last British colonial governor, Chris Patten, and has been viewed as a stabilizing force throughout Hong Kong's political transition.
Chan says she is leaving to spend more time with her family, but analysts here believe her feuding with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is the real reason.
``Her announcement generated lots of speculation, and time will tell whether the excessively pessimistic prognosis of some observers will be borne out,'' Klosson said.
On the Net:
U.S. consulate in Hong Kong http://www.usconsulate.org.hk/
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press