Success in the talks could pave the way for a meeting between the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen.
The Foreign Ministry's acting spokesman, Li Jianying, said yesterday: 'The crux of the matter at present is that the British side must abandon Mr Patten's plan for political reform.' Mr Qian, however, took a more conciliatory line in a magazine interview. Although he stuck to his hard line on Mr Patten's proposals, he conspicuously failed to repeat Chinese demands that they be torn up before negotiations can begin.
Peking's greater sensitivity to Western criticism of its human rights record was reflected in the early release of another dissident yesterday, the fourth this week. Li Guiren, an editor sentenced to five years' imprisonment for inciting anti-government activities during the 1989 democracy protests, was freed on bail in the city of Xian.
Mr Li was arrested in June 1989 for trying to organise a strike of employees the day after the army crushed the protests in Peking. Xinhua news agency said Mr Li, 49, had been released to have treatment for a heart ailment he had suffered before entering prison.