Rifkind visit to sound out Hong Kong's mood

STEPHEN VINES

Hong Kong

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, arrives in Hong Kong this evening with few illusions of securing any key agreements with China when he moves on to Peking later in the week.

Although Sino-British relations moved from cold to tepid following the October visit to London by China's foreign minister, Qian Qichen, both sides are cautious about how to proceed after a six-year period in which relations have been strained following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Mr Rifkind is ''not going to Peking with expectations of great breakthroughs'', said a British official. ''There's no bag of sweets ready to be given out.''

The visit has been prefaced with the usual flurry of speculation about whether Britain is ready to sacrifice the colony's interests in favour of its longer-term relationship with China and whether this means a return to the old days of kowtowing.

Equally predictably there has been a rash of reports about how China will insist that the Governor, Chris Patten, has no role to play in the ceremonies to mark the handover of power next year and there have been other stories about China's demand that he be told to cease raising issues that the Chinese government does not wish to discuss, such as political reform and human rights.

One official involved in preparations for the talks dismissed all this as ''low-level chit-chat''. However, there is little doubt that China's strategy is to isolate the Governor and seek a more cooperative response from the Foreign Office, which has traditionally been more sensitive to China's views.

In a New Year message, Lu Ping, the most senior Chinese official handling Hong Kong affairs, said that Britain was showing a more co-operative attitude these days and expressed the hope ''that this commitment [to co-operation] will not be restricted to words, but put into practice''.

This is China's coded language for telling Britain it wishes to hear no more talk about political reform in Hong Kong, nor does it want the colony's government to make plans without fully consulting Peking.

Officials in Hong Kong are stressing the significance of Mr Rifkind coming to the colony before going to Peking, ''so he can get a first-hand impression of the mood of the community before going to China'', as one put it.

While in the colony, he will hold the first-ever public meeting with legislators, a move quickly dismissed by the outspoken legislator Emily Lau, who said this was little more than a gimmick to stimulate interest as ''most members regard the British as irrelevant and that's why, in the past, in these closed meetings, hardly anybody turned up''.

In China, where Mr Rifkind will meet Mr Qian, and possibly the Prime Minister, Li Peng, he will want to continue discussions on the nature of the ceremonies for the handover of power on 1 July 1997. He will again try to get China to clarify its intentions on the right of abode and citizenship criteria for Hong Kong residents after 1997. The lack of clarity on these matters is undermining confidence in the colony and helping to provoke the high level of emigration.

Among a clutch of other issues high on the British agenda is the desire to seek China's agreement for the award of a contract to build the colony's ninth container-port terminal. China objects to the contract having been awarded to a consortium headed by the British controlled conglomerate Jardines, which it sees as being a political ally of Mr Patten.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?