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China delays beckon Hurd to Peking

THE Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, will visit Peking next week in a hastily arranged attempt to persuade China to begin negotiating seriously on Hong Kong's political development. Six rounds of talks have gone by with almost no progress, writes Raymond Whitaker.

Mr Hurd, who will fly to Peking after attending the Group of Seven summit of leading industrial nations in Tokyo, said he would urge his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, to 'concentrate on what is essential' - the arrangements for 1994 and 1995 elections in Hong Kong.

He stressed that the purpose of his talks next Thursday and Friday was not to negotiate or make new proposals, but to 'clarify the issues'.

As one unproductive round of Sino-British negotiations has followed another, suspicions have grown that China, while toning down its abuse of the democracy plans of Hong Kong's Governor, Chris Patten, is seeking to disrupt them by other means. Recently Britain has made no secret of its impatience at China's delaying tactics. Mr Hurd repeated yesterday that time was not unlimited.

The announcement of the trip to Peking was not expected, coming a day after Mr Hurd said there had been 'nothing agreed or settled' about meeting Mr Qian.

He said yesterday that the Government had decided, after Cabinet meetings in London with Mr Patten and Britain's chief negotiator, Sir Robin McLaren, to request the talks. China might see him as a supplicant, but also appeared to regard such a meeting as 'useful'.