FCC reschedules talk by pro-Tibet activist but HK entry is in doubt

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 April, 2009, 12:00am

A lunch talk at the Foreign Correspondents' Club by a leading pro- Tibet activist - postponed three weeks ago after strong opposition from Beijing's top representatives in Hong Kong - has been rescheduled for Monday.

But questions remained last night whether Briton Kate Saunders would be allowed into Hong Kong to make the speech in the face of Beijing's ire.

In a notice to members yesterday, the club announced that Ms Saunders, communication director of the International Campaign for Tibet, would speak at a lunch on Monday.

Club vice-president Tom Mitchell said yesterday that he saw no reason to delay the speech any further as the Foreign Ministry's office in Hong Kong had not taken up an offer to send a speaker.

When it announced the postponement last month, the club said it was doing so to give Beijing an opportunity for the right of reply.

'We have already postponed for three weeks after the ministry voiced its opposition,' Mitchell said, adding that the offer for Beijing to send a speaker remained open.

'The three-week delay was unprecedented.'

Ms Saunders' talk, titled 'A Great Mountain Burned by Fire: Reflections on New Expressions of Dissent and the Crisis in Tibet', had been scheduled for March 17.

But days before that date, Mitchell was summoned by the ministry to its Kennedy Road office, where Beijing officials voiced strong opposition to the event.

The ministry's office in Hong Kong said in a statement at the time that the central government 'firmly opposes Tibetan separatists [coming] to Hong Kong for any separatist activities'.

Ms Saunders, who is in Britain and is to arrive on Sunday, said she was misunderstood and that she had never engaged in any separatist activities. Rather, her organisation sought to 'uncover' the situation in Tibet 'often covered up' by Beijing.

'Similar to the position taken by the Dalai Lama, we have never campaigned for Tibetan independence. I am really a monitor rather than an activist. I hope being in Hong Kong, which has the freedom of speech, I can come and speak freely,' she said.

But concerns have been raised on whether she would be banned from entering Hong Kong - similar to the experience faced by several foreign Tibetan-independence activists during the Olympic torch relay last year.

A government source would not speculate on individual cases, but pointed to Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong's comments last year that the city would not welcome people who openly conduct separatist activities during their visit.