Exiled ex-Xinhua chief Xu Jiatun says at 99 it is almost time to go home

Former Xinhua chief in Hong Kong was kicked out of party, but at 99 he wants to go home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 3:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 8:31am

At the age of 99, Beijing's former top man in Hong Kong says it is almost time for him to return from exile in the United States.

Xu Jiatun served as director of the Xinhua branch in Hong Kong from 1983 to 1990, at a time when the news agency was Beijing's de facto embassy in the city. He left for the US a year after giving tacit permission to Wen Wei Po, a newspaper usually seen as Beijing's mouthpiece, to run an editorial expressing grief at plans to crack down on the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

"The condition [for returning to China] is almost mature, but I am too old … not sure if I can wait until that time," Xu told RTHK's This Week in an interview recorded last month in Chino Hills, Los Angeles. "After all, falling leaves must return to their roots."

Xu was an important figure in early planning for the handover but was questioned by Beijing officials after Wen Wei Po ran an editorial comprising four Chinese characters meaning "deep sorrow" when martial law was imposed in May 1989. In 1990, Xu shocked the world by seeking refuge in the US for "travel and rest". He was later expelled from the Communist Party.

Despite his sympathy for the students, Xu said the time was not yet right for Beijing to vindicate the democracy protests.

And Xu, seen as liberal in his party days, also supported the stance of Beijing officials on Hong Kong's political reform. He backs screening out candidates who are not "patriotic" when the city elects its chief executive democratically for the first time as early as 2017. He said Western democracies also practised screening.

He condemned Occupy Central's plans to block streets if an acceptable plan for democracy is not forthcoming as an attempt to "devastate Hong Kong". He said the reform debate had led the city to waste opportunities to develop as a centre for innovation.

"Of course I am not saying democracy is not important … but do not make it the first thing you discuss," he said. "It is impossible to reach a conclusion on that."

Xu also played down tensions between Hongkongers and mainland visitors sparked by a rise in the number of tourists.

"Someone is exaggerating [the rift]. They want Hongkongers and mainlanders to amplify each others' flaws, so they can't get along well. Why can't we understand this point?"