Patten defeats Foreign Office

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Hong Kong

Chris Patten has used the Foreign Secretary's visit to impress on him the need for a resolute stance in defending institutions established by the outgoing colonial power.

Elements within the Foreign Office remain deeply sceptical of Mr Patten's ideas and had appeared to be winning the battle to keep the Governor in the background. Mr Rifkind's visit to Hong Kong has clearly marked the failure of this effort.

He left Hong Kong issuing a dire warning of the "extremely damaging" consequences of China's proposal to dismantle the colony's elected legislature once it resumes sovereignty on 1 July next year. The Foreign Secretary has not spoken quite so bluntly about this in the past, and indicated he would raise this matter in meetings with the Chinese leadership.

However, Mr Rifkind indirectly acknowledged that Britain had little with which to persuade China to change its policy. The main bargaining chip was China's "overwhelming interest for Hong Kong to be a success". He warned: "if they are insensitive, they will be shooting themselves in the foot". That is unlikely to be well- received by Peking, which has assembled a group of Hong Kong notables who claim that there is no demand for more representative government.

The Hong Kong visit has caused some problems for the Foreign Secretary. He dismayed and annoyed legislators by telling them that the colony had determined its own policy for making the territory a port of first asylum for Vietnamese boat people, and was therefore responsible for solving the matter.

Legislators pointed out that the policy was imposed by Britain, which determines foreign policy for its colonies.

There was also anger over Mr Rifkind's suggestion that Hong Kong people have never been entitled to full British citizenship.