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HONG KONG’S NEW BARONESS HOPES TO SWAY THE BRITISH

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In the sunset years of British rule over this last outpost of a colonial empire, Hong Kong finally has a baroness to call its own.

The title goes to Dame Lydia Dunn, who was awarded a life peerage in the Queen's Birthday Honor's list this month.A key adviser to the colonial governor and a leading businesswoman, she becomes the first ethnic Chinese, the first Hong Kong woman and the second Hong Kong representative in the House of Lords.

As with everything that happens in Hong Kong these days, the honor is being evaluated in light of 1997, when Britain will hand over the territory of 5.7 million people to Communist China.

Dame Lydia, 50, believes her seat in the Lords will provide the colony another avenue to press Hong Kong's case to the British.

"I do not look at this in terms of a personal honor," she said during a recent interview at her posh downtown office. "I see this as a major gesture to Hong Kong by the British government . . . to give Hong Kong every chance to air its voice in a more direct way."

In particular, she has been arguing that London has a moral duty to grant British residency rights to millions of Hong Kong people as an insurance policy of last resort in case of calamity with the Chinese takeover.

Although the British government has proposed offering citizenship to only 225,000 people, Dame Lydia believes "that's not the end of the road. One hopes that the door is still open."

Others believe the life peerage will ultimately work against her effectiveness as a local leader. They note that Britain's influence in Hong Kong is waning and that the new masters in Beijing have shown little inclination to work with residents with strong ties to London.