Patten denies secret pact on Hong Kong with China

CHRIS PATTEN, the Governor of Hong Kong, yesterday dismissed allegations of a secret pact between Britain and China to restrict democratic reform in the territory.

'There were no secret deals, no secret arrangements,' he said in a BBC television interview. However, the issue is unlikely to die down unless Britain agrees to publish a series of exchanges of letters between London and Peking, dated early 1990, which the Chinese side is claiming include commitments from London over arrangements for Hong Kong's 1995 Legislative Council elections.

The Chinese allegations were revealed by Lu Ping, director of the Chinese State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, in Peking on Friday in the fiercest attack yet on Mr Patten's plans to increase democracy in the colony.

Mr Patten's two-day visit last week to China left the two sides deadlocked over his political blueprint, with threats from Mr Lu that China would form its own Legislative Council in Hong Kong in 1997 and separate warnings that it would not honour contracts on the new airport if Hong Kong went ahead without Peking's approval.

The worsening row between Mr Patten and Peking yesterday finally brought Hong Kong's stock market down to earth. After an upward surge last week, the index yesterday collapsed by 200 points, or 4 per cent, on Friday's close.

Mr Patten told the Legislative Council at the weekend that he had 'no objection whatsoever' to publication of the letters if the Chinese and the British sides so wished. Mr Patten has won widespread public support in Hong Kong with his promises of open and accountable government, and this may encourage the Foreign Office to make the letters available. It is understood there were up to three exchanges of letters between the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen. The British Foreign Office yesterday came under pressure to make public the content of the letters.

Until last week, the Chinese had criticised Mr Patten's election proposals on the grounds that they conflicted with the Basic Law, China's mini-constitution for Hong Kong after 1997. Mr Lu on Friday said the alleged secret pact meant that Britain had also agreed that the 1995 electoral arrangements should be modelled on parts of the Basic Law. Mr Patten maintains the Basic Law makes it clear he is free to put forward his proposals.

Hamish McRae, page 19