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Central gov't easing HK travel restrictions
Updated: 2004-05-07 11:46

The Chinese central government will relax travel curbs to allow more people on the Chinese mainland to visit Hong Kong, in a move expected to boost the city's economy, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government announced .

It was the central government's latest economic gift to the HKSAR.

Over the next several months, the central government will allow another 43 million Chinese mainland residents to visit Hong Kong, as individuals, without requiring them to join tour groups as before, Hong Kong's Economic Development Secretary Stephen Ip said lately.

All Chinese mainland tourists holidaying in Hong Kong were required to join tour groups until the middle of last year, when the central government started a scheme to waive the requirement for residents in some cities.

The scheme has since been expanded to other cities.

Ip said 310,000 residents from seven more cities in South China's Guangdong Province could visit Hong Kong as individuals beginning this month, and another 43 million people from nine cities in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian provinces could visit on their own beginning in July.

After that, the scheme will cover 150 million mainlanders from 32 cities. It is expected to boost Hong Kong's retail and tourism industries.

The scheme now covers 16 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, but most are located in Guangdong, a province just north of Hong Kong.

**Tung: Let's focus on economy

HK Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa on Thursday called on society to shift its attention back to the economy and away from political debate.

Recent disputes over Hong Kong's political reform have slowed down development in other areas such as the economy and people's livelihoods, he told a special question-and-answer session in the Legislative Council (LegCo) .

It was the first such session since the country's top legislature ruled out universal suffrage in Hong Kong in 2007/2008.

"We have been focusing our attention on political development and as a result other things have been delayed. We should focus on the economy, finding new opportunities for growth," Tung said.

"I firmly believe that the economic issue remains the prime priority for most citizens. The biggest expectation of our people on the government is to improve Hong Kong's economy."

In response to a question by Ambrose Lau on how the government would allay worries of credit-rating agencies on Hong Kong's political situation, Tung admitted that recent remarks by Standard & Poor's had given Hong Kong a "yellow light" warning. The government would handle the issue very cautiously, he said.

Standard & Poor's said on Wednesday that the city's current political climate could restrict the government's efforts to introduce discretionary measures, especially on tax reform.

To allay worries and shore up international investors' confidence, Tung said the government would stick to prudent management of public finances.

"We will firmly adhere to the principle of fiscal prudence. We believe we will ultimately attain the goal of eliminating the deficit in 2008-09," he said.

He added that Financial Secretary Henry Tang would strengthen communication with credit-ratings agencies to ease their concerns.

On the ruling by the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Hong Kong's electoral arrangements, Tung said it safeguarded the collective interests of Hong Kong and the country as a whole, and laid a new foundation for the former's constitutional development.

Out of the 17 legislators who asked Tung questions during the 75-minute session, eight focused on how the government would propel constitutional development.

Albert Ho of the Democratic Party questioned whether Tung had sold out the interests of Hong Kong people in this regard.

"I don't understand what you mean," Tung said. "What the SAR government is doing is all for the long-term interests of Hong Kong."

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