'Beware of Patten the small thief': Peking steps up war of words

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The Independent Online
PEKING (Reuter) - China accused Hong Kong's Governor, Chris Patten, of driving down stock prices 'like a small thief in the market place' and warned residents of the British colony to watch their wallets. In a particularly vicious personal attack on Mr Patten, the official People's Daily yesterday carried a commentary implying that Britain was deliberately creating economic chaos in Hong Kong to cause instability before its 1997 handover to China.

'As Patten picks his fight, Hong Kong people should watch their wallets,' the paper's overseas edition said.

The Communist Party General Secretary, Jiang Zemin, repeated that Peking would be willing to discuss the Hong Kong issue with Britain as long as London scrapped Mr Patten's plan for limited democratic reforms in the colony. 'China is willing to have talks with the British side, but it will never barter away principles,' the official Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Jiang as telling a visiting Hong Kong newspaper publisher.

In Hong Kong, Mr Patten warned that Peking could not 'humiliate' the colony into abandoning the reforms, and said lawmakers were eager to debate them whether or not China agreed to talks. He reiterated Hong Kong's readiness to open talks with Peking over the reforms, which he hopes to have in place before 1997.

The People's Daily commentary said Mr Patten had been acting like a 'small thief in the market place' by causing wide stock market swings. 'The small thief at the market place will create a commotion and then take advantage of those who gather to watch,' it said.

Carefully-timed Chinese blasts at Mr Patten's reform package have set off bouts of stock dumping among Hong Kong investors. Peking's editorial writers have kept their pens particularly sharp during the current session of the country's rubber-stamp parliament.