April 10, 2007 / 5:08 AM / 13 years ago

China allows veteran activist to visit Hong Kong

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has granted rare permission for pro-democracy activist Ren Wanding to visit Hong Kong, the dissident said on Tuesday, adding that the unexpected approval could be a sign of increasing openness.

Ren, 62, said he would leave for Hong Kong on Monday, accompanied by his wife, Zhang Fengying, and stay for seven days to have health checks and possibly meet with members of the city’s democratic camp.

“I really don’t know why they did this, but according to my own analysis, next year is 2008 and the Olympics,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“In all aspects they are relaxing restrictions a little bit,” said Ren, who was jailed twice for a total of 11 years for advocating political change in Communist-ruled China.

He also cited the easing of rules governing foreign reporters, who until last year had to seek official permission to travel outside their home bases, as part of a relaxing political atmosphere around the Olympics.

Under revised rules, which took effect on January 1, journalists need only the agreement of the person they are interviewing. The rules do not cover Tibet and the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang in the northwest.

“The other aspect of this is, there is no reason for them to stop me — I am only going for a medical check,” Ren said.

A veteran of China’s reform movements, Ren was detained in 1979 and spent four years in prison for his role in the Democracy Wall movement.

He served another seven years following the student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, crushed by the army in June of 1989.

Ren has remained a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities, calling on the government to reassess its verdict on the Tiananmen movement — branded a counter-revolutionary or subversive incident — and attempting to register the China Democracy Party during a brief political thaw in 1998.

Beijing’s resolve to show more openness in the run-up to the Olympics will also be tested by Wang Dan, former student leader and one of the best known faces of the Tiananmen movement, who says he plans to apply to teach in Hong Kong after a decade of exile in the United States.

Hong Kong, a former British colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, enjoys a high degree of autonomy but Beijing still has the final say over its affairs.

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