Deadlock for Patten in China

AUTUMNAL gloom descended on Peking yesterday, with fog turning the world grey and bringing a chill to the air. It must have matched Chris Patten's mood after his first fruitless session of talks with Chinese officials on the future of Hong Kong.

Possibly showing displeasure with the Hong Kong governor, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that he would not meet the Prime Minister, Li Peng, as his predecessors usually have, and as Mr Patten had requested. Instead he is to meet the Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, today.

As they posed for photographs among the guesthouses and withering leaves of the Diaoyutai government compound, Mr Patten told Lu Ping, director of China's Hong Kong and Macao Office, that although there would be problems, 'I'm sure we will be able to overcome those in the interests of Hong Kong.' Mr Lu replied: 'Though there have been twists and turns, generally co-operation between Britain and China over Hong Kong is good.'

By evening, under the glare of television lights outside the British ambassador's residence, Mr Patten said there had been no meeting of minds. He had put his proposals for greater democracy in Hong Kong, outlined this month in his maiden policy speech to the colony's Legislative Council, and Mr Lu had insisted that China's Basic Law, which will govern the running of Hong Kong after 1997, should make everything clear. The talks lasted more than six hours, twice as long as scheduled.

Mr Patten said the discussions, 'however vigorous', had been conducted in a civilised manner. China's controlled press, however, intensified its campaign of abuse. The overseas edition of People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, reported that the Governor had been accused in Hong Kong of 'gambling with the trust and interests of Hong Kong people' and 'nurturing anti-Chinese feeling'. If the dispute continued, it would 'have a great impact on Hong Kong's stability'. One of Peking's mouthpieces in the colony, Wen Wei Po, published a supplement of previous anti-Patten editorials, including one which accused him of becoming a dictator.

China's strategy has been to snipe at Mr Patten's proposals without making any of its own, apart from threatening that any changes he makes might be reversed after 1997. This led to a stalemate last week in talks on Hong Kong's new airport project.

Leading article, page 26

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