Hopes fade for HK talks with China

Britain and China seemed poised on the brink of new hostilities over Hong Kong last night after Chris Patten, the Governor, formally published his proposed democratic reforms.

Weeks of delicate diplomatic negotiations, including last-ditch meetings yesterday morning in Peking, failed to get talks going on the colony's political future. China stuck to its refusal to accept Hong Kong officials on any British negotiating team, and Mr Patten decided there was no reason to delay his reforms any longer.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, quoted by the New China news agency after the bill was published, said: 'The Chinese side is shocked by this.' He added: 'The Chinese side must solemnly point out that the action taken by the British side proves not only that it has no sincerity for talks, but it also has been deliberately undermining the talks so that they cannot go on.'

Although there remains a slim chance that confrontation will be avoided, Hong Kong was last night bracing itself for a resumption of the rhetoric and threats from Peking that began last autumn, when Mr Patten first announced his proposals. The stock market, which in recent weeks had made big gains on the hope of talks, closed 201 points down at 6,170.

Mr Patten told Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco), that 'it would be very difficult for anybody to argue that we had behaved unreasonably' in gazetting the draft legislation. Publication had been held up for four weeks in the hope of reaching agreement on terms for talks.

'We haven't got a date for talks; we haven't even got a date when I'll be able to give you a date for talks; we haven't got agreement that Hong Kong officials should be part of the British team, as they have been for the last 10 years,' said Mr Patten. The Governor said that if he had announced another delay in publication, Legco and the community 'would have regarded me as more than a trifle indecisive'.

The content of the draft bill is no surprise: it formally sets out the content of Mr Patten's policy speech last October on how the 1994 and 1995 elections will be organised, and introduces limited moves to democratise the process.

Yesterday Mr Patten still left open the possibility of Sino- British talks by saying that he would judge 'in the light of subsequent developments' when to table the draft bill in Legco. However, it is difficult to see how he will be able to delay its introduction beyond Wednesday, when Legco next sits.

Hong Kong government officials let it be known yesterday that in the last hours of negotiations, Chinese officials appeared to be hardening their stance, and were even trying to re-open issues that had previously been agreed. Mr Patten told Legco that, while he still hoped there could be talks, the points of disagreement 'have become larger rather than smaller in the last day or two'.

For some time it has been clear that there has been a split on the Chinese side between hardliners in the New China News Agency and more moderate figures in the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, who were in favour of talks. The issue of whether Hong Kong officials could take part in the negotiations appeared to have been forced by the hardliners to the point where the Chinese side could not back down.

For Mr Patten, Hong Kong participation in any negotiations is a very strong issue on which to walk away from talks. Previous negotiating teams have always included Hong Kong officials; Michael Sze, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs and one of two Hong Kong officials who would have been included this time, is already a member of Britain's delegation to the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group. While public support for talks has been very strong in Hong Kong, secret negotiations that did not include Hong Kong officials would have been seen as a return to the bad old days.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine