Patten pushes to allay Xi fear

GOVERNOR Chris Patten urged China to spell out its regulations on reporting in an effort to remove concerns over the jailing of Xi Yang.

Ming Pao reporter Xi's appeal against conviction and 12-year sentence was rejected on Friday, sparking an angry reaction in Hong Kong and a mass protest on Sunday - one of the largest in recent years.

The Governor said yesterday that Hong Kong people's anxieties were ''very, very real and very, very profound''.

He echoed calls made by the Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang for China to specify regulations journalists had to follow when they were covering events in China.

Xi was jailed for ''stealing state financial secrets''.

Mr Patten said that aside from how the case was handled, the ''wholly disproportionate'' sentence worried Hong Kong people.

''I hope that Chinese officials understand why there is so much worry in Hong Kong about this case,'' he said.

But he pointed out that ''there is a limit'' to what the British Government could do in pursuing Xi's case because Xi was a Chinese citizen although he worked and lived in Hong Kong.

British Ambassador to China Sir Robin McLaren said the British Government would try to seek confirmation and more information on Xi's case through official channels.

Sir Robin, arriving in Hong Kong for a two-day visit, said he was disappointed Xi's appeal had been dismissed and would discuss the issue with the Governor.

The Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) in Hong Kong released a statement yesterday expressing concern over Xi's ''excessive'' sentence and impact of this case.

The FCC maintained that the alleged secrets for which Xi was sentenced were ''normal stuff of discussion in market economies''.

Yesterday, Ming Pao reported that mainland journalist Gao Yu, charged with ''leaking state secrets to foreigners'', would be sentenced tomorrow.

Gao, a vice-chief editor of the defunct Economics Weekly and a contributor to Hong Kong's Mirror magazine, was arrested five days after Xi's detention.

Xu Ximin, publisher of the Mirror said he had failed to get information from Public Security and judiciary authorities in Beijing about Gao's case. But Gao's family had been able to visit her.

Chang Hsin, senior research fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Gao's case would be more serious since it involved foreigners.

But the severity of the sentence would depend on the nature of ''secrets'' involved, he said.