China bars Patten's men from future role in Hong Kong

Any lingering doubts about whether China will tolerate the smallest degree of independence in the running of Hong Kong have been dispelled this week, in moves that have surprised even some of China's most enthusiastic supporters in the territory, which reverts to Chinese rule next year.

At the beginning of the week, Lu Ping, China's most senior official dealing with Hong Kong, said the only member of Peking's hand- picked Preparatory Committee, who voted against the dissolution of the existing legislature and its replacement by a temporary appointed body, would be barred from serving on the new council and could not take part in the selection of members.

It was later confirmed also that no members of the majority Democratic Party would be allowed to join the council.

Then, China announced the new body would be established before the end of colonial rule and would enact a host of laws scrapping the modest democratic reforms introduced by the Governor, Chris Patten.

The following day, China stipulated that civil servants would have to declare loyalty to the new body if they wished to remain in its employment.

Traditionally, civil servants have always been considered part of the executive wing of government and have never been called on to express views on the nature of the legislature. But an unnamed Chinese official was quoted by the pro-Peking Hongkong Standard as saying the new regime would not tolerate senior officials who had supported Mr Patten.

China has denied intending to establish a shadow government, but seems to be trying instead to neutralise the Patten administration.

China's unwillingness to tolerate any dissent, even from those serving on bodies it has picked to advise Peking on the transfer of power, has been criticised by Mr Patten, the Foreign Office and Washington. But although they have all protested against the dismantling of the existing legislature, China has shown no sign of concern about these protests.

The move to get civil servants to distance themselves from the Governor publicly has prompted rare expressions of unease from Peking's supporters in the territory. Eric Li, of the Preparatory Committee, said: "Civil servants should not have a political stance, or publicise their political will."

Michael DeGolyer, head of the Baptist University's Hong Kong Transition Project, a study of issues raised by the hand-over of power, pointed out that public declarations of loyalty would also be required from the judiciary. This would constitute a serious challenge to their independence, he said.