China to 'oust HK legislature'

CHINA'S Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, yesterday said work would intensify on the preparations of a post-1997 Hong Kong administration to replace any legislature put in place by Britain without China's agreement.

Mr Qian was opening a three-day meeting of the Preparatory Working Committee (PWC), a group of mainland officials and appointed pro-Peking representatives from Hong Kong who are drawing up plans for when sovereignty for the British colony reverts to China.

Mr Qian said that if Chris Patten, the Hong Kong governor, pressed ahead with plans this month to table part of his proposed electoral reforms in the colony's Legislative Council (Legco), then the PWC would immediately start studying 'the concrete method' to form a new Legco in 1997.

Mr Patten has already announced that, because of lack of progress in negotiations, he will today publish a draft bill including some of the least controversial aspects of the electoral package, such as the voting age. The bill is due to be tabled in Legco next Wednesday, a move which China's official news agency, Xinhua, said would mean 'the British side has unilateraly closed the door of negotiations'.

Mr Qian's address was more measured in tone and stopped short of any new threats to Britain. China, like Britain, is waging an active campaign for the hearts and minds of the Hong Kong people. Mr Qian told the PWC: 'More and more compatriots and people of all walks of life in Hong Kong are consciously coming to the side of maintaining the prosperity, stability and smooth transition of Hong Kong, forming a strong social force to fight against those attempting to sabotage the prosperity and stability and obstruct the smooth transition.'

There was, however, little evidence for this new social force in a poll published yesterday by the Hong Kong government which showed that 60 per cent of those surveyed last month were confident that the territory would continue to be prosperous and stable. Two- thirds expected the situation to either improve in the next 12 months or stay the same.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wu Jianmin, yesterday said Britain would have to 'correct its errors' before talks could resume. But hopes remain in Hong Kong that talks between the two sides may yet restart.

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