Patten seeks to avoid conflict with China

Click to follow
IMMEDIATELY after being sworn in yesterday as the twenty-eighth, and probably the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten hinted strongly he would avoid a confrontation with China by denying a larger role to democrats who swept the colony's first direct elections last year.

China has warned Britain against appointing 'subversive' figures to the Executive Council, the most powerful consultative body. This is a reference to Martin Lee and Szeto Wah, leaders of the United Democrats, which won 12 of the 18 directly elected seats on the Legislative Council. All but one of the rest usually ally themselves with the group.

In the key passage of his inaugural speech, Mr Patten said: 'I look forward to co-operating with those who share my aim - to do everything we can to improve and strengthen the government of Hong Kong in the unique circumstances in which history has placed us. Those circumstances will require a spirit of mature co-operation in the business of government.'

He promised to make his governorship 'as open and accessible as possible. But the ultimate responsibility of leadership rests with me, in what is and will remain an executive-led government.'

The new Governor referred early to a 'stable and prosperous' Hong Kong, but did not couple the words with 'freedom', as he had on his appointment. He listed the hallmarks of the territory's system as being the rule of law, freedom from government interference and freedom of speech and worship, but made no mention of demands for the number of directly elected seats in the 60-member legislature to be raised from 20 to 30 before China takes control in 1997, a move Peking strongly opposes.

Much of his speech was taken up with domestic issues such as inflation and crime, but his final point was that he would do all he could 'to remove misunderstandings and to build up trust' between Britain and China. Trust, however, was 'a two-way street', and Mr Patten insisted: 'I have no secret agenda.'

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman yesterday called on Mr Patten to co-operate towards a smooth handover in 1997, while the newspaper Wen Wei Po, one of Peking's mouthpieces in Hong Kong, warned that anyone who deviated from co-operation 'will find themselves on a thorny path and looking for trouble'. Sizing up the family, page 12

Leading article, page 20