China Congress reshuffle won't affect HK - Tsang

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HONG KONG, Oct 11 (Reuters) China's policies towards Hong Kong will remain constant, even if the Politburo's key man on Hong Kong affairs steps down at a pivotal Communist Party Congress next week, the city's leader said today.

Reports have suggested that Vice President Zeng Qinghong has offered to step down at the 17th Party Congress, which opens on Monday. Zeng, an ally of former President Jiang Zemin, ranks fifth in the party hierarchy and is the man in charge of Hong Kong affairs.

''Any personality change will bring a new dimension to the whole calculus, but what's important is ... if (Hu Jintao) remains the president,'' Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang told a select group of foreign media.

''I do not see that the new politburo will change the (Hong Kong) policy, which has been made by President Hu (Jintao),'' he said of the possible reshuffle of the Communist Party's elite hierarchy during the Congress.

Tsang praised Zeng, saying he had helped Hong Kong enormously, although he did not say how.

''If he stays, so much the better, if he retires ... whoever replaces him will continue to work with Hong Kong,'' he said.

The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

A key test of Hu's growing confidence at the Congress will be whether he can ease out allies of former President Jiang Zemin, including Zeng and Jia Qinglin from the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, now down to eight members.

Zeng, despite his alliance with Jiang, helped his current boss Hu weather massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong that brought half a million people on to streets in 2003.

Tsang said China had nothing to fear from Hong Kong's ongoing democratic reforms and moves towards direct elections.

''I do not regard Hong Kong's evolution ... as either a threat or a model for the mainland,'' said Tsang. ''We are what we are ... we have to move toward universal suffrage, and that's what we're going to do,'' he said.

REUTERS AE ND1500

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