Former PMs and officials prepare to party

President Jiang Zemin may have decided to skip tonight's lavish farewell banquet in favour of "One Country, Two Dinners", but the list of members of the official British delegation to the Hong Kong handover reveals an array of politicians and businessmen who are delighted to turn up for the party of the decade.

As well as two former prime ministers, Sir Edward Heath and Baroness Thatcher, the list of political guests include those who conducted years of tortuous negotiations with the Chinese over the handover, including Lord Howe and Lord Hurd. Also present will be Sir Robin McLaren, the former British ambassador to Peking who sat through the marathon 17 rounds and 170 hours of diplomatic talks with China in an - eventually futile - attempt to win Peking over to the idea of Governor Christopher Patten's democratic reforms. The new leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, jumps onto the list of the delegation members, with his fiancee Ffion Jenkins, but the former prime minister, John Major, does not appear.

More than two dozen British businessmen, including many of those whose companies are eager to expand their presence in China, will be there. John Browne, chief executive of BP, Robert Ayling, chief executive of British Airways, and Richard Brown, chief executive of Cable & Wireless are on the list. And no party would be complete, of course, without Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group.

Representatives of Hong Kong's "hongs", still linked in Peking's mind with the heinous crimes of the British in the 19th century against China, are included in the delegation. They include Henry Keswick, Simon Keswick, and Sir Charles Powell from the Jardine Matheson stable, and Sir Adrian and Sir John Swire from John Swire & Sons.

Many of those officials whose lives have been centred on Hong Kong will be there, including the former Hong Kong governors, Lord Maclehose and Lord Wilson. However, Sir Percy Cradock, the former Peking ambassador and one of the architects of Britain's Hong Kong policy, was invited to be part of the British delegation, but declined. Over the past five years, he has been one of the most hostile critics of Mr Patten's political reform programme.

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