Informal Patten rejects tradition

DOING what no governor of Hong Kong has done before, Chris Patten held a press conference on the lawn of his mansion yesterday, only to find that the microphones did not work. 'That's a wonderful start to open government,' he quipped.

Mr Patten has promised that his turn of office will be 'open and accessible', but gave few clues as to how he proposes to put this into effect, beyond saying that he would have talks next week on how he could be more accountable to the Legislative Council (Legco), the colony's highest elected body. It had been suggested, he said, that a regular 'question time' might be instituted, on the Westminster model.

It appears that the new governor plans to introduce a greater note of democracy into Hong Kong's affairs by this means, rather than by actions which would antagonise China. Peking bitterly opposes demands for the leaders of the United Democrats, which last year won two-thirds of the seats in the first direct elections to Legco, to be appointed to the Executive Council (Exco), the main decision-making group.

Asked if China was interfering too much in the question of appointments to Exco, he said: 'We do have to recognise the unique partnership between Britain and China in making the Joint Declaration work, and ensuring that 'one country, two systems' is implemented in full and with enthusiasm after 1997.' The governor would visit China when it seemed appropriate.

Peking has been delaying approval of financing plans for Hong Kong's HKdollars 175.3bn ( pounds 12bn) new airport project, partly on cost grounds, but also as a weapon against any drastic moves towards democratisation before the handover. Mr Patten said he hoped a joint British-Chinese airport committee would be able to move forward in the next few days, because 'to allow things to slip isn't a no- cost option'. Anxious to avoid seeming a hostage to the project, he added: 'I don't think we should become too excitable about it. We want agreements that will work.'

In another breach of tradition, after meeting reporters in his backyard, Mr Patten and his wife caught the underground for a jaunt in the Mong Kok district, a grubby area notorious for its crime and cheap electronic shops.

Dressed in a short-sleeve shirt and khakis, he made his way through Tung Choi Street and stopped for tea at the First House Tea Shop.

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