China hints at HK reform talks

GROWING signs that China might at least agree to discuss the political reform plans put forward by Hong Kong's Governor, Chris Patten, have sent the colony's stock market sharply higher.

Since October, when Mr Patten revealed his proposals to widen the franchise for next year's municipal elections and the 1995 Legislative Council (Legco) poll, China has insisted that they be withdrawn in their entirety. But according to reports in Hong Kong newspapers controlled by Peking, China is now willing to have talks without pre-conditions.

The reports caused a jump of 191.29 points, or 3.3 per cent, in the stock market's Hang Seng index on Monday. Yesterday, despite attempts by the same newspapers to damp down speculation, the index weathered a bout of profit-taking to close another 16.18 points higher, amid rumours that there was heavy 'informed' buying from Chinese interests.

Earlier this month Hong Kong's Executive Council, the colony's highest advisory body, drew up legislation to implement Mr Patten's proposals almost unchanged. Sources confirmed, however, that before publishing the legislation - the prelude to its consideration by Legco - Peking was told of its contents. The head of China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Lu Ping, is understood to have asked for more time to study it, and to have indicated a desire to discuss the issue of political development before publication. Mr Patten has agreed to a delay, but one source said the legislation would have to go before Legco during its current session.

Peking continues to repeat that it regards Mr Patten's proposals as unacceptable, and a violation of understandings that political and constitutional developments in Hong Kong would 'converge' with China's plans for the colony after it regains control in 1997. Since the beginning of the year, however, there has been a somewhat less strident tone to Chinese pronouncements.

'The imminence of the Legco debate appears to have concentrated their minds,' said one official. 'They have been in two minds for some time.' China's behaviour was following the 'classic pattern' of remaining inflexible until the last possible moment.

There is no indication so far of what form any talks would take, or at what level they would be held, but one source said there could be developments 'in the next day or two'. An agreement to meet Mr Patten himself would be a significant concession as Peking has sought to ostracise him since he made his proposals last October. The most likely forum, however, is the Joint Liaison Group, which exists to discuss Hong Kong's transition to Chinese rule in 1997.

If significant progress is made, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, might agree to meet his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, in Peking in the next few weeks. The two, who are supposed to meet twice a year, last did so in New York in September. With the previous talks having been held in London last spring, Peking is the logical venue for the next encounter, but Mr Hurd is unwilling to go there without some improvement in Sino-British relations.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower