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Chinese blow cold again over HK

AFTER a brief thaw, relations between Britain and China appear to be cooling rapidly once more. Yesterday, as one unproductive set of negotiations over Hong Kong ended and another resumed, Peking leaked the membership of a working committee widely considered a potential 'shadow government' for the colony before China takes over in 1997.

The Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) ended its first meeting this year with the British representative, Tony Galsworthy, hinting that China was holding big projects hostage to the row over constitutional reform. 'The results from three days of discussion have been pretty marginal,' he said. 'It is clear to me that the Chinese side approached this meeting with the intention of allowing only minimal progress at it.'

Asked why, he said: 'I'm only guessing . . . that by going slow on this work they can somehow put pressure on the British in the wider context.' This was taken as a reference to the higher-level talks on democratic reform, the sixth round of which opened in Peking yesterday.

After six months of abuse against the constitutional proposals of Hong Kong's Governor, Chris Patten, China agreed to resume talking in April. The hopes aroused by this have largely dissipated, however, with British officials making little secret of their frustration. The outcome of the JLG meeting has also undermined the belief that China is seeking to separate political and economic issues, since Peking failed to approve construction of a much-needed ninth terminal at Hong Kong's container port.

Mr Patten is to meet John Major and senior ministers in London next week to discuss the progress of the constitutional talks, amid speculation that some kind of deadline may be set to achieve results.

China, meanwhile, gave Hong Kong newspapers details of the working committee, dominated by Chinese officials. The chairman - the Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen - and four of the seven vice-chairmen are mainlanders. The three from Hong Kong are businessmen Henry Fok and T K Ann, and a former judge, Simon Li. Other members include Li Ka-shing, one of Hong Kong's richest tycoons, David Li, head of the Bank of East Asia, and Rita Fan, dropped by Mr Patten from the Executive Council last year.