Patten flies in to discuss Hong Kong plan

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNOR of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, made a flying visit to London yesterday, his first since he took office in July, to discuss his plans for the last five years of British rule in the colony. He is due to reveal his programme in a speech to the Legislative Council (Legco) on 7 October.

Mr Patten had breakfast with John Major before they joined the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, for a meeting that lasted most of yesterday morning. With his policy speech next month seen as crucial to the success of his governorship, Mr Patten wants to demonstrate to the Chinese government that he has support at the highest level in London.

Afterwards, Mr Patten referred to the Prime Minister as 'one of my closest friends in politics', adding: 'I think Mr Major was happy with the discussions tht we had.'

No details were available of what was discussed, but the main topics were sure to have been the future of democracy in Hong Kong and the colony's 175.3bn Hong Kong dollar ( pounds 12bn) airport project, to which China raised a stream of objections and which was the downfall of Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, Mr Patten's predecessor. Peking had stalled negotiations on the airport for several weeks, apparently while it waited to see what changes the new Governor planned to make in the running of Hong Kong.

Last week, however, it made new proposals on the financing, and Mr Patten said Hong Kong would respond with its own proposals at a meeting today

China's apparent willingness to disentangle the airport issue from other questions suggests that Peking has been reassured that Mr Patten is not out to seek confrontation. Appointing a politician, rather than another Foreign Office Sinologist, as Governor has paid dividends in terms of style - Mr Patten's informal 'meet the people' approach and his the glamour of daughters certainly have the Hong Kong media in thrall - but it has also led to much greater sophistication in steering public opinion.

Mr Patten took a vow of silence for three months while consulting as wide a cross-section of Hong Kong people as he could, but enough has emerged about his thinking to predict how he will address the most controversial questions next month. He has balanced promises of more democracy, for example, with the insistence that his will be an 'executive-led' administration.

This is expected to mean that he will heed China's specific warning against appointing outspoken liberals such as Martin Lee and Szeto Wah, leading members of the United Democrats, to the Executive Council (Exco), the colony's highest policy-making body. The decision will cause outrage among the United Democrats, who swept nearly all the directly elected seats in the Legco elections last year, but Mr Patten hopes to finesse the problem by also reducing the influence of some politicians who are seen as slavish followers of China.

By announcing that no member of Legco can be appointed to Exco, Mr Patten will be able to drop Martin Lee's arch-opponent, Allan Lee, and three other Exco members who belong to the Co-operative Resources Centre. This group, formed after last year's elections, is regarded by many as little more than a mouthpiece for business interests who follow China's will in nearly all respects.

The Governor is likely to appoint both liberals and pro-China members to the reformed Exco, but will seek more independent and less strident figures. Legco, meanwhile, will be offered a committee system, in which members can call the administration, up to and including the Governor, to account.

It is likely that China will be told that it needs to give its acquiescence to this in exchange for keeping elected politicans off Exco.

Mr Patten is also expected to propose more direct elections and greater accountability within bodies such as district councils. Having to defend themselves in Legco and other forums, he feels, will test the mettle of the Chinese-speaking officials who will increasingly replace expatriates as the handover to China in 1997 approaches.

Mr Patten said that he was hopeful of a 'satisfactory outcome' in the case of two Chinese women who are fighting deportation from Hong Kong to China, where they fear political persecution, Reuter reports.