UN debt repayment plan 'a matter for Beijing'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 September, 1998, 12:00am

It was up to Beijing to consider whether to ask the United Nations to withhold membership fees to offset the $1.16 billion owed to the SAR, a senior official said yesterday.

Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's remarks came after Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun urged her to explore the feasibility of inviting Beijing to ask the UN to make such deductions.

Last Friday, China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, paid its US$9.47 million (HK$73.3 million) dues for 1998.

It would take 16 years for the UN debt to be paid off if Mr To's suggestion was endorsed.

The $1.16 billion debt which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) owes to Hong Kong is for the cost of care and maintenance of the more than 200,000 Vietnamese boat people who passed through Hong Kong.

Asked whether the proposal was feasible, Mrs Ip said: 'We would certainly continue to press for repayment of the money which the UNHCR owes to us.

'But it falls outside the SAR Government's parameters to consider whether the outstanding amount should be deducted from China's UN membership fees.' Mrs Ip said it remained a question as to whether it was appropriate to link the two issues.

She did not say whether she would recommend Mr To's proposal to Beijing.

Under an agreement with the UNHCR, Hong Kong acted as a port of first asylum for the boat people while the refugee agency agreed to cover the costs.

But UNHCR chief Sadako Ogata has told Tung Chee-hwa in January that Hong Kong should regard the issue as a 'funding shortfall'.