Talks relieve HK market

HONG KONG (Reuter) - The jittery stock market fought back from an early slide yesterday after Chinese and British envoys sat down and heard each other out despite the festering row over Hong Kong's future.

But hopes remained slim for a breakthrough on the proposals by the Governor, Chris Patten, to widen democracy in Hong Kong, as China's negotiator refused to budge on the first day of a three-day meeting of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group.

'We will not discuss the Hong Kong-British government's proposal on political reform,' Guo Fengmin said before the talks - the chief forum for issues concerning the colony's transition to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. 'Neither will we make any counter-proposals,' he said.

The half-day talks ended on schedule with both sides describing them as frank, but reporting no progress. Nervous investors who had feared China might walk out of the talks heaved a sigh of relief. 'This is a good start,' said a member of a securities firm.