Self-exiled Xu dies aged 100

Top News | Yupina Ng, Phoenix Un and Mary Ann Benitez 30 Jun 2016

Exile Xu Jiatun - Beijing's top man in Hong Kong in the 1980s but who fled to the United States in 1990 after disagreeing with the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown - died yesterday at the age of 100 in Los Angeles.

Xu, who had been director of the Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong - the de facto Chinese representative office during colonial times - suffered from heart and kidney failure and was admitted in critical condition to a Los Angeles hospital last month.

He died at his home in the city's Chino Hills district with family members around him at 3.12pm (Hong Kong time).

Mainland media did not report the death, with Xu having been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party.

But news of the passing of a man who was deeply involved in preparations for Hong Kong's return to Beijing's control circulated around Greater China soon after the New York- based Ming Jin News published online a statement from Xu's children.

In it, the family said: "Not long ago, our father, some close friends and ourselves celebrated his 100th birthday.

"In the past few months, he had been unwell and hospitalized but remained conscious and concerned about the situation in the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the world, and he missed his homeland."

A memorial service has yet to be set for Xu, whose wife died years ago.

Xu fled to Los Angeles in 1990 after expressing sympathy with the 1989 student protesters. He was expelled by the communist party in 1991.

Chris Yeung, a veteran political journalist and founder of the Voice of Hong Kong who interviewed Xu in 2007 in California, recalled that Xu had during his time as the mainland's top man in Hong Kong become "good friends with the tycoons, the very rich people and at the same time held conversations and dialogues with democrats like Szeto Wah and Martin Lee."

He had to talk to them even though he might not have seen eye to eye with them on political issues.

"It was very important during that time that the top mainland official in Hong Kong was on talking with the democrats, which helped allay concerns and fears about the transition. This was a time when the Sino-British Joint Declaration had just been signed and Hong Kong was officially in the transition period.

"In that sense he steadied Hong Kong during an unstable period. Of course, he wasn't able to continue his efforts largely because of June 4."

Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu recalled that Xu reached out to the first Executive Council convener, Sir Sze-yuen Chung, and tycoons such as Li Ka-shing and Run Run Shaw.

Legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan, also chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, praised Xu's forthright manner and willingness to communicate with different sectors in Hong Kong.

And establishment legislator Tam Yiu-chung acknowledged Xu's openness in communicating with different sectors - rare for a mainland official in the 1980s.

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing recalled: "Xu went to my school to talk with the teachers, and after the central government had announced his successor he went to the school again to say goodbye to the teachers."

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