Secrecy pact starts Hong Kong talks

A SINO-BRITISH official handshake, a rare sight in recent months, yesterday launched the start of what is likely to be weeks of very difficult negotiations seeking agreement on how to run Hong Kong's next elections.

At the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Peking, both Sir Robin McLaren, the British ambassador, and Jiang Enzhu, the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister, pledged their sincerity in embarking on talks.

After a meeting of more than three hours, it was clear they had agreement for now on one issue at least - not to divulge how the first meeting had gone. Sir Robin said: 'We have had a full morning's work, and we got down to work.' He said he was 'not going to characterise the discussions with adjectives, as you will be asking me tomorrow for new adjectives'. A Chinese spokesman said: 'I have nothing that I can tell you.' The first of what should be several rounds of talks is likely to last until Sunday.

In Hong Kong, the colony's Governor, Chris Patten, who has been lambasted by the Chinese since October, when he unveiled plans for modest democratic reform, told the Legislative Council (Legco) that there would be 'no hidden agreement'. Negotiations would be kept confidential, but he would listen closely to councillors' views, and Legco would vote on any agreement reached.

Mr Patten said Britain would try its best to reach an 'honourable' conclusion. Asked what would constitute such an agreement, he said any electoral arrangements would have to be designed 'to produce a fair outcome rather than a pre-ordained outcome'.

Mr Patten also said clarification was needed of who would qualify to ride the 'through train' - agreement that the Legco elected in 1995 would stay in place after sovereignty reverts to China in 1997. Legco members should not be 'turfed off half way through', said Mr Patten. China has said it will hold a veto over who stays on the 'train'. It has a feeling of near loathing for two popularly elected Legco members, Martin Lee and Szeto Wah. The leading lights of the United Democrats party in Hong Kong, they helped co-ordinate the colony's protests at the time of the Tiananmen Square shootings.

Now that the talks have started, China would seem to have most to gain, because it can always use negotiations as a delaying tactic. Mr Patten's and Britain's nightmare scenario would be to find themselves in early June with little substantial progress on reaching agreement, and no easy way of exiting from talks.

Over the next few weeks Hong Kong's nervous population will see brinkmanship, media manipulation, stock market somersaults, and threats by either side to walk out of negotiations. There may also be an eventual compromise. And then that new package of proposals will be put to Legco - which will be anxious to show it is not going to be a rubber-stamp body.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?