Delay in HK talks squeezes Patten

BRITAIN and China yesterday ended their second round of talks on Hong Kong without any indication of progress beyond agreeing to meet again in Peking between 21 and 23 May.

The delay of more than three weeks before resuming talks is due to the absence of China's senior representative, the deputy Foreign Minister Jiang Enzhu, who will be in Europe for part of next month accompanying the Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen.

By the next meeting, however, the pressure of time will be mounting on the British side. Chris Patten, the Governor, has previously said he wanted the legislation on 1984-5 electoral arrangements to be passed by Hong Kong's Legislative Council by the end of July. That would not pose problems if the talks are moving towards agreement, but would start to look difficult if, by mid-June, the negotiations have not started to make real progress.

So far there is no sign that the negotiators have even reached the stage of starting detailed discussions about arrangements for Hong Kong's elections in 1994 and 1995. The best guess yesterday was that the two sides were still struggling through the groundwork. The British team leader, Sir Robin McLaren, the ambassador to Peking, said: 'I don't want to comment on the number of rounds.'

Both sides refused to disclose anything about the talks' progress. A Chinese spokesman said only that they were proceeding 'normally'.

This week's other diplomatic talks for China - its highest level dialogue with Taiwan for more than 44 years - yesterday also concluded, but with more success. The mainland team leader, Wang Daohan, said the meeting had been a 'historic moment'. The chief Taiwan delegate, Koo Chen-fu, said it was a 'milestone' for future relations. Agreements were signed covering future regular meetings, handling of registered post, and document verification.

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