Major in dilemma over HK meetings: The Prime Minister must decide what can be done about the continuing lack of progress in negotiations with China on the colony

WHEN John Major sits down tomorrow with the Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, to consider the progress of negotiations with China on the colony's future, nobody will need to tell them that time is short. Exactly four years from midnight tonight, Britain will yield control of Hong Kong to Peking.

The Prime Minister and the Governor, who will be joined tomorrow by the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and Britain's chief negotatior on Hong Kong, Sir Robin McLaren, will have to decide whether the talks with China are going anywhere, and whether to set a deadline for results to be achieved.

In April, after six months of abusing Mr Patten and making crude threats against the colony's economy to get him to drop his plans for greater democracy, China agreed to resume negotiations. Chinese leaders appeared to be taking a new approach, separating political and economic questions, and hopes were boosted by Peking's agreement to three long-delayed franchises spanning 1997, the most important being a new tunnel under Hong Kong harbour. Last week the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG), set up to deal with the detail of the transition, met for the first time in six months.

The JLG meeting produced virtually nothing, however. With five rounds of talks on Mr Patten's constitutional proposals having been equally unproductive, British officials made no secret of their belief that China was simply trying to string them along. News that the Governor was returning to London for consultations was coupled with speculation that Britain might pull out of the talks altogether.

Perhaps coincidentally, the sixth round found Peking prepared to negotiate for the first time, although this entailed spelling out Chinese objections to the Governor's plans in greater detail rather than suggesting any alternatives. Suspicions remain that China yielded just enough to prevent the talks being broken off, and that next Monday,

when round seven begins, it will

be back to the old delaying tactics.

Despite growing British impatience, it is unlikely that any public ultimatum will be given to the Chinese. Hints are being dropped that if no agreement is forthcoming by September or October, Mr Patten may put his plans to the colony's Legislative Council for a vote; but previous efforts to set a hard and fast deadline have simply backfired.

Yesterday a former foreign secretary, Lord Howe, released the report of a British human rights delegation to China, which called for an urgent review of the death penalty, the release of prisoners held for political dissent, and steps to end the torture of detainees. To suggestions that the report might be considered weak, he replied that it was 'essentially an essay in persuasion' - words that might have come from any of Britain's negotiators with Peking - and that 'none of us are starry-eyed optimists'.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat