Hong Kong ultimatum

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CHINA demanded yesterday that Hong Kong be run on its terms until the colony is handed over in 1997, and said it would reverse any moves towards greater democracy by Chris Patten, the new Governor, unless it had agreed to them.

Using the bluntest language for several years, Lu Ping, director of China's Hong Kong and Macao office, accused Mr Patten of violating secret agreements between Britain and China, as well as the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and China's Basic Law laying down how Hong Kong will be governed. If Britain ignored its commitment to converging with the Basic Law, 'that will lead to turmoil in Hong Kong'.

Peking also rejected financing plans for the pounds 14.3bn airport at Chek Lap Kok, which it feels is too expensive. Mr Lu, newly appointed to the Communist Party's Central Committee, said if Hong Kong tried to continue on its own, China would not take responsibility for the project's debts or contracts and would close its airspace to flights to or from Chek Lap Kok.

The row sent Hong Kong-related shares down sharply.

Mr Patten, who returned to Hong Kong yesterday after two days of deadlock during his first visit to China, said his democracy proposals were consistent with the Basic Law. 'Nothing I've said is encouraging turmoil.' But, in a reference to China, he added: 'What some people may be trying to do is precisely that.'

Mr Lu's reply drastically raised the pressure: 'If (Mr Patten) thinks it is not necessary to stick to agreements, there is no point in continuing the talks.'

The core of the dispute is Mr Patten's plan for the 1995 Legislative Council elections. He wants every worker to have a vote for some seats. Mr Lu said this violated Britain's agreement that voting be indirect.

Mr Lu says Britain made the undertakings in letters from the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, as China was drafting the Basic Law in 1990. Mr Patten's complaint that China would not specify where he was acting contrary to this law had forced Mr Lu to make the letters public.