MAINLAND officials will be asked to ease restrictions on Hong Kong reporters carrying out assignments in China by a high-level delegation of the territory's media representatives. Speaking before his departure to Beijing yesterday, Hong Kong Newspaper Society chairman Tang Lap-yan said the group would also express concerns for press freedom after the change of sovereignty in 1997. But he maintained there was a need for Hong Kong reporters to abide by mainland laws when they were in China. 'It is important to understand the Chinese situation; China has its own way of handling things just as Hong Kong has its own laws,' Mr Tang said. 'When one is in China carrying out assignments, one has to follow the mainland's laws.' Fears over press freedom intensified last year when China sentenced mainland-born reporter Xi Yang to 12 years' imprisonment for allegedly stealing state secrets about financial matters. At present, Hong Kong reporters are required to apply for official permission and specify precisely what event or events they would like to cover. The head of the propaganda department at Xinhua (the New China News Agency), Sun Nansheng, who is accompanying the delegates, said China already gave Hong Kong reporters a great deal of leeway. Citing the requirement to comply with Chinese law, Mr Sun said rules also had to be followed by tourists. Post-1997 freedom of the press would be protected by the Basic Law, the department's head said. The delegation will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen and officials from the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.