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Patten hopes for sincerity from China: 'Dennis Skinner of the Orient' defends his record

CHRIS PATTEN, the Governor of Hong Kong, said yesterday he hoped talks with China on the future of the territory would begin soon 'in a spirit of sincerity on both sides', adding that Britain was ready to start negotiations immediately. In a vigorous defence of his position, despite what he described as 'millions of words of abuse from the north (Peking)', the Governor said he knew the negotiations would be no pushover.

'They will be extremely difficult as clearly we will be discussing issues on which both sides feel strongly,' he told a packed meeting of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. Mr Patten has returned to London for two weeks for talks with the Foreign Office and Downing Street on British proposals, which China has vigorously rejected, to expand the franchise in the colony ahead of elections next year and in 1995. China has accused London of breaking the spirit, though not the letter, of formal agreements.

Mr Patten emphasised, presumably for the sake of his Chinese listeners, that the proposed changes were not his alone but carried the authority of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. He made clear that if Peking continued to refuse to negotiate, the British election proposals would be put to the colony's legislative council for its consideration.

Mr Patten sought to explain how a 'one-time wet from the consensual end of British politics' had become after nearly a year in Hong Kong the 'Dennis Skinner of the Orient'. When he arrived in the colony he and the British government firmly believed that the Joint Declaration between London and Peking which set out in 1984 the terms on which Hong Kong would be returned to China in 1997 was 'for real'. The declaration, he said, described Hong Kong's way of life and guaranteed its stability, freedoms and prosperity for the next 50 years. Prosperity was not, as Peking imagined, something you could separate from the others and especially not from the rule of law.

Mr Patten said whenever China was asked to explain how the proposals on widening the franchise in Hong Kong breached the Joint Declaration or the Basic Law - the document China drew up for the governance of Hong Kong - there was no answer.