Peking in pledge to Heseltine

China's Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, yesterday pledged full co-operation with Britain to ensure "security, stability and prosperity" in Hong Kong through its transition to Chinese rule in 1997. He made the promise during talks in London with the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, at the start of an official visit intended to smooth relations between the two countries.

The continued existence of Hong Kong's limited democracy was noticeably absent from their assurances. Last week Mr Qian reiterated China's intention to discard the political structure erected by the last Hong Kong Governor, Chris Patten, as soon as it took over.

This difference apart, both British and Chinese officials seemed keen to stress the high level of Mr Qian's visit. Yesterday he also saw Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, and Robin Cook, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman. Today he is to hold talks with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

The US, at odds with China over rights, missile sales and Taiwan, yesterday denied President Jiang Zemin a state visit. A White House spokesman said he would meet President Bill Clinton at the UN in New York this month. Mr Clinton is known to dislike formal state visits but the Chinese would have preferred a ceremonial welcome in Washington to a meeting on the fringes of the General Assembly.