China raises pressure on 'creators of chaos'

AMID stately villas and frozen lakes, China yesterday tuned up the verbal intimidation in its onslaught on the Hong Kong Governor, Chris Patten, for pressing ahead with democratic reform in the colony.

China's Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, said that 'if there can no longer be co-operation, we cannot sit idly by while there is chaos in Hong Kong'. He was addressing the closing session of the Preparatory Working Committee (PWC) of mainland officials and appointed Hong Kong individuals tasked by Peking with preparing for the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. The PWC could replace any legislature unilaterally put in place by the British with one sanctioned by the Chinese.

The three-day meeting concluded in the comfortable surroundings of the Diaoyutiai Guest House complex in west Peking. The venue had been changed because the Prime Minister, Li Peng, had decided to address the session.

China is keen to boost the standing of the PWC, which is expected to emerge as a 'shadow' government that can be used to undermine Hong Kong's government in the last years of colonial rule.

The PWC, in a statement, said that Britain had 'deliberately sabotaged' Sino-British negotiations by publishing a bill on Friday that would put in place some basic proposals for the next local and parliamentary elections in Hong Kong, including fixing the voting age at 18 and opting for a one-vote, single-seat constituency electoral system.

The PWC said these measures, which have cross-party support in the colony, would 'artificially create chaos'. On Wednesday the Hong Kong government is due formally to table the bill in the colony's parliament, the Legislative Council (Legco), a move that Peking has said will mark the end of negotiations. Mr Qian's speech seemed designed to create maximum concern in Hong Kong while still trying to present China as the reasonable party in the dispute. China's tactics appear to be to try to emasculate the British administration in the run-up to 1997 without threatening the economy of the colony and thereby alienating Hong Kong public opinion. Even yesterday, the rhetoric avoided specific threats. On Friday the local Hong Kong Hang Seng stock market index breached the 10,000 mark for the first time, despite Sino-British relations being at a low-point.

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