Patten fights China's corner

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The Independent Online
Chris Patten, the Governor of Hong Kong whom China describes as a criminal, is turning out to be Peking's most important ally in securing Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status from the US.

Mr Patten is visiting the US and taking every opportunity to press for renewal of MFN next month. Although he said: "I make no case for China to have its MFN status renewed", he also argues it is his job to "make the case for Hong Kong that China's MFN status should be renewed". He says the colony will suffer from non-renewal, as its economy depends heavily on trade with China.

On Tuesday he met the Vice President, Al Gore, and said he had received an assurance that Washington intended to renew MFN for China. He also defended renewal to Senator Robert Dole, the Republican presidential candidate who is under pressure to make trade with China a political issue.

Mr Patten's efforts have cut little ice with Chinese officials in Hong Kong who accuse the Governor of being "insincere" and "playing tricks" on his US visit. They say he is stimulating unjustified "internationalisation" of Hong Kong's affairs.

The visit by Mr Patten comes a week after another by Martin Lee, the leader of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, who China describes as "a subversive". He used his strong human-rights credentials to put the case against trade sanctions on China. Mr Lee told influential Americans, including Mr Gore, that there was a case for disentangling trade from China's human-rights record.

Peking has threatened retaliation against American businesses if US threats of sanctions to counter the abuse of intellectual property rights are carried out and if MFN is not renewed. Although Mr Patten is being helpful on trading issues, he has bolstered Chinese suspicions by pressing the case also for democratic progress in Hong Kong.