Human rights on the mainland are likely to improve after Hu Jintao becomes president, the leader of Hong Kong's Catholics, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, has predicted. But while optimistic about developments, the outspoken bishop said the Hong Kong government's proposal to introduce anti-subversion laws would endanger links with the Church across the border. Speaking at a Foreign Correspondents' Club luncheon, Bishop Zen said he had become more optimistic about rights under Mr Hu, who is vice-president and expected to succeed President Jiang Zemin at the National People's Congress next month. 'It's right to be more optimistic. My recent observations on Mr Hu have provided me with more evidence for being optimistic,' he said. 'He seems to have very good intentions, for example saying everybody should respect the constitution and that the Communist Party should listen to people's voices. That's a very good attitude.' But he criticised the central government for its 'tight control' on the Church on the mainland, where priests and bishops belonging to the underground church - those acknowledging leadership of the Pope - have to toe the government line. And when asked whether rights and freedoms would improve in the next three to five years, the bishop replied: 'I wouldn't bet on that. The actual situation now is really difficult to understand, it's all against the general climate . . . and the whole climate in the world. That's why [the present situation] cannot last too long.' Bishop Zen said the central government was still uneasy on issues such as the appointment of bishops by the Pope. While saying he expected Mr Hu to bring changes, the bishop said the Hong Kong government's handling of the proposed introduction of anti-subversion laws was disappointing and he accused officials of being shortsighted. He said if the laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law to ban acts such as treason and subversion were enacted, links between the Hong Kong and mainland churches would be affected. Bishop Zen said the Church would encourage followers to be more careful when dealing with their mainland counterparts. He also feared the Hong Kong Church could be banned in extreme cases if the links were believed to threaten national security. Beatrice Leung Kit-fun, an associate professor of politics at Lingnan University and specialist in Sino-Vatican relations, said although it was Bishop Zen's duty to be optimistic as head of the Church, he genuinely believed Mr Hu was more liberal than other state leaders. 'But improving rights and freedoms is only the first step for relaxing the grip on the Church,' she said.