HK's top Chinese official on Peking trip

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Hong Kong

Anson Chan, Hong Kong's most senior Chinese official, has made an unprecedented secret visit to Peking. Her meetings there with the Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, and Lu Ping, head of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, broke China's freeze on high-level contact with the colony's government.

The visit emphasises China's determination to restore relations on its terms, keeping Chris Patten, the Governor, at arm's length while cultivating contact with his senior Chinese officials. He is regarded as beyond the pale after promoting democratic reform in the colony.

Mrs Chan, the Chief Secretary, disclosed her meetings yesterday after briefing members of the Executive Council, which acts as the Governor's cabinet. She has been trying to establish contact with Chinese officials since her appointment to the second most senior post in the government in November 1993.

When Mr Lu visited Hong Kong in May he snubbed Mr Patten and Mrs Chan. Since then, there has been a warming of relations, with Sino-British agreements on establishment of a new court of final appeal and on financing arrangements for Hong Kong's new airport.

Mrs Chan's visit was not a negotiating session, though she said she had reassuring talks on the future of the civil service.

It has been speculated that Mrs Chan might be Chief Executive in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to be established when China resumes sovereignty in 1997. Her association with the outgoing administration would seem to rule this out, but Mrs Chan has been careful to build lines of communication to Peking.

Others have gone further. Donald Tsang, soon to become Financial Secretary, recently gave an interview in which he said that the transfer was a "glorious event" adding: "For the first time we will then have a sovereign power which speaks our language and understands our culture."

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