Portillo overlooks great and good on flying trip

Apparently, Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, visited Hong Kong yesterday. Apparently, that is, because hardly anyone in the colony knew he was here.

Even by the increasingly undemanding standards of British ministerial visits to the colony Mr Portillo managed to set new lows. He stayed in Hong Kong for less than 10 hours, managed not to meet a single Hong Kong Chinese person of any status and confined his inner thoughts solely to a small group of reporters who had been flown out from London by the Ministry of Defence to accompany the secretary of state.

Like the visits of other British political figures, Mr Portillo's was curtailed by the need for his vote in the House of Commons. Two weeks ago, Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, was forced to dash back to attend the BSE debate but at least he stayed long enough to find out about what was happening during the twilight of British rule.

Mr Portillo was too busy for this as he had to make time for two photo opportunities. First, a quick inspection of the newly arrived Black Watch and then a spin in a fast-pursuit craft man- ned by the British Navy.

How little he learned was apparent at a stand-up news conference at the airport where he said that good progress was being made in Sino-British negotiations on the advance station- ing of People's Liberation Army troops in the colony before the handover of power.

China is very angry about Britain's reluctance to allow in significant numbers of troops and keeps saying so to anyone prepared to listen. However, Mr Portillo did not seem to be concerned with what must appear to be minutiae when compared with pressing matters such as the next election and possible changes to the leadership of the Conservative Party.

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