China vows to scrap elected HK bodies

CHINA reacted angrily yesterday to the passage of the first part of the reform plans of Hong Kong's Governor, Chris Patten, warning that all the colony's elected bodies 'will definitely be terminated' when Peking takes over in 1997. This brought a sharp fall on the Hong Kong stock market, which closed 3.1 per cent lower, but Mr Patten said he would press on quickly with the main part of his proposals.

China was also incensed by the British government's publication of a White Paper which gave details of the 17 rounds of talks held last year in a fruitless effort to reach a compromise on the Governor's plans. An introduction by the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, says China's proposals for the last round of elections under British rule 'would have restricted choice and left the elections open to manipulation'. The door remained open for talks, said Mr Hurd, but China retorted that Britain had violated secrecy, 'closing completely the door for resuming the talks'.

Hong Kong government sources were unperturbed yesterday, saying the Chinese reaction was as expected. The stock market, however, after having ignored the Sino-British war of words for weeks, appeared to suffer an attack of nerves. Further falls could reawaken fears that Chinese hostility might damage Hong Kong's economy, although Peking has sought to reassure the business community that it wants to separate political and economic issues. The proof of this, say officials, will be whether China continues to block progress on projects such as the colony's new airport.

Yesterday Mr Patten congratulated Hong Kong's Legislative Council for supporting the initial part of his reforms, after an unusually passionate debate. 'Nobody can turn the clock back,' he said, confirming that he would formally publish the bill containing the main part of his proposals today and introduce it for debate in a fortnight. Several weeks of debate are likely, with final passage due by July.

The package to be put to the legislature will be the one first outlined by the Governor in October 1992, without the many concessions offered to the Chinese in an attempt to win their approval. The most controversial provision is to create nine new seats in which all of Hong Kong's 2.7 million workers will have a vote. Peking, by contrast, wanted an electorate of only 20,000.

Although the first part of the measures passed without amendment, official sources expect far more debate over Mr Patten's main proposals, which could be substantially changed. Provided that the 1995 elections could still be seen to be fair and open, said a source, the authorities would be prepared to accept a package closer to the one discussed with China than to the original. But some pro-democracy legislators want to push in the opposite direction, and may propose an amendment calling for all 60 members of the council to be directly elected.