Peking warms to Hong Kong airport

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The Independent Online
PEKING - The official in charge of Hong Kong affairs said yesterday that China hoped the colony's proposed airport would be built and that meetings of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) should go ahead, writes Teresa Poole.

The stock market seized upon this as a sign that business might not suffer in the worsening dispute over Hong Kong's political system, and closed 1.5 per cent higher. But others were sceptical whether comments by Lu Ping, head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, represented a softening in China's stance.

China is focusing its wrath on Britain and the colony's governor, Chris Patten, while trying not to alienate Hong Kong public opinion. While threatening Sino-British trade, China has stressed that it would stick to existing agreements such as the 1984 Joint Declaration on Hong Kong's future. The declaration specifies that the two sides must hold routine meetings of the JLG, so China would find it difficult to pull out of a forum which concentrates on the practicalities of the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. But no date for the next meeting has been set.

Mr Lu, quoted in a mainland-controlled newspaper, said he hoped the new airport could be built before 1997. But he also said Peking's position towards the project had not changed - and since signing the memorandum of understanding on the airport nearly 18 months ago, China has effectively blocked agreement on its financing.

In Peking, Hong Kong delegates to China's rubber-stamp National People's Congress discussed with mainland officials the creation of a 'preliminary work organisation', seen as a possible counter to Mr Patten's reforms. But a Chinese newspaper said it 'will not be a power centre' and indicated it might not be set up immediately.