HK$10b post-1997 lease sought for city A former top mainland official in Hong Kong has revealed that a proposal by tycoons to pay Beijing HK$10 billion to allow self-rule in the city for 10 years after 1997 had been presented to top mainland leaders. The proposal, raised by a group of business and community leaders, including shipping tycoon Helmut Sohmen, in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, was branded treasonous by one senior official, Xu Jiatun revealed. Mr Xu, a former director of Xinhua in Hong Kong, was giving more details of the lease proposal, which he had touched upon in his 1993 memoirs, and the political fallout from it. In an interview with the South China Morning Post at his home in Los Angeles, Mr Xu recalled that one of the sons-in-law of the late shipping tycoon, Sir Yue-kong Pao, had come to see him with the proposal after the June 4 suppression had prompted a confidence crisis in Hong Kong about the city's 1997 return to China. 'He's an Austrian. I forgot his name just now. It was signed by more than 10 people. They were all upper class elites,' he said. 'They proposed a 10-year lease of Hong Kong after 1997 for them to practise self-rule. I was caught by surprise. I asked him whether he had consulted Sir Yue-kong. He did not comment. I guess he [Sir Yue-kong] knew about it. 'I told him Beijing would not agree to their proposal. But I would report it to them. I suggested they should not spread their idea further. Doing so would not necessarily be good for Hong Kong, China or them.' He did not name the others who supported the idea. Dr Sohmen, chairman of World-Wide Shipping Group, had no comment yesterday. Mr Xu said he told the then Communist Party general secretary, Jiang Zemin , about the tycoons' proposal on the sidelines of a Central Committee meeting. 'He [Mr Jiang] didn't state his position. I asked him whether I should compile a formal report to the central authorities and for [late leader] Deng Xiaoping as reference. He agreed. I sent a report via telegram upon my return to Hong Kong. 'One month later, I went to see Ji Pengfei [the late director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office] in Beijing. During the visit, Mr Ji's deputies, Li Hou and Lu Ping talked about the proposal. Lu Ping criticised the idea as amounting to an act of treason.' Mr Xu maintained he was only doing his job, relaying the concerns of Hong Kong people to Beijing. 'These are influential people. Their views are worth consideration,' he said. 'They are businessmen. They may not understand China well. I'm sure they still recognise Hong Kong as part of China ... I have nothing to hide. It's a pity this incident has become part of the official verdict on my wrongdoings.' Mr Xu, who, fearing political persecution in the wake of Tiananmen, sought refuge in the US in 1990, said he became aware that trouble was brewing in late 1989 after he had expressed his wish to retire. He was 75. He was succeeded by Zhou Nan , a former vice-foreign minister. Shortly after Mr Zhou took up the Xinhua post, Mr Xu said he learned that Mr Zhou had set up a task force to investigate his activities during his seven-year stint in Hong Kong. In memoirs to be published this month, Mr Zhou accuses Mr Xu of leading a decadent life in Hong Kong and fleeing with a mistress. He was later expelled from the party. 'Mr Zhou was a tool deployed to Hong Kong to attack me ... I read the report [about his claims] from the internet. It is not worth a response,' Mr Xu said. 'The party central authorities came up with only a four-word verdict on me after months of investigations. They said I had deserted the people. Why did they not publish their whole investigation report? That would give some credence to their decision to kick me out.'