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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones