Peking seeks to weaken Patten: New body opposes Hong Kong reforms

CHINA'S rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), yesterday endorsed plans to set up a working party on Hong Kong which many view as an attempt to undermine the authority of Chris Patten, the Governor of Hong Kong.

Li Peng, the Chinese Prime Minister, speaking after the NPC closed its final session, said the new preparatory work committee would be established 'at the appropriate and necessary time' and that its only purpose was to ensure a smooth transition when Hong Kong's sovereignty reverted to China in 1997.

However, China has previously made clear that, if Mr Patten proceeds with his political reform proposals, Peking will start laying plans to scrap the system Britain leaves behind. The new body could draft laws to be implemented after the takeover, or even become a replacement for Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco).

Speaking at a rare news conference, Mr Li said it was up to the British side to take the initiative about restarting the Sino-British dialogue over Hong Kong. 'It is up to the one who tied the knot to untie it . . . The ball is now in the British court.'

In a lengthy answer, Mr Li seemed to want to allay immediate fears in Hong Kong about China's plans, while also stepping up the pressure on Britain not to begin the debate in Legco on Mr Patten's reforms. He hinted that it would be at this point that Sino-British trade and business links might suffer, and that such a move would close the door on talks.

A British official said Mr Li's comments appeared in keeping with the latest Chinese strategy of creating unease in Hong Kong, but avoiding specific threats. These might damage business confidence in the colony, and could attract unwelcome international attention at a time when the new US administration is still working out its China policy, Peking is bidding for the 2000 Olympics and China is seeking to rejoin the Gatt trade grouping. Peking still believed it was possible to divide British ministers from the Governor, and was seeking to target British companies in the hope that they might press the Government to overrule Mr Patten and make concessions to China.

In a message that coincides with the Governor's arrival in Brussels today, Mr Li said China attached great importance to trade relations with all European Community countries. Big Sino-British projects, including a Shell joint venture, GEC's interest in power-station work, and British bids for the big Canton metro project, were still welcome, the Prime Minister said. 'But if the present situation should continue to develop and further deteriorate, I'm afraid we cannot entirely rule out the possibility of economic co-operation being affected to different degrees.'

Sino-British diplomatic relations have been deadlocked since three weeks ago, when Mr Patten decided to publish his draft bill after Britain and China failed to agree terms for restarting talks. Originally, Hong Kong officials said the package would be tabled in Legco by the end of March, but this has now been put off until after Easter, to keep open the possibility of resuming negotiations. With Legco in Easter recess until 21 April, Mr Patten has a breathing-space. He will consult John Major and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, on his strategy during a two-week visit to Britain, starting at the weekend. One consideration will be opinion polls showing disappointment in Hong Kong at the breakdown of 'talks about talks' with the Chinese.

Today a new batch of advisers to China, drawn from Hong Kong, will arrive in Peking to be appointed formally to their new role. The group includes several of Hong Kong's top businessmen and, in a public relations coup, China has also appointed the first Western adviser, Sir David Akers-Jones, a former top civil servant and acting governor in the colony who lives in retirement in the New Territories. Sir David has been fiercely criticised for agreeing to join the body, which is seen as another attempt by China to undermine Mr Patten's authority.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue