Letter: Patten to blame for Peking move

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Sir: What is truly "stomach-turning", to use Governor Chris Patten's phrase, is the ease with which he can use the press to pillory Peking and exonerate himself for the replacement next July of the sitting Hong Kong Legislative Council by an appointed interim chamber ("Patten lashes `sick' plan for Hong Kong", 21 December). The Chinese authorities' description of their action as "necessary, reasonable and justified" is apt.

It is necessary because, consequent on Mr Patten's actions, the constituency basis on which the council was elected in 1995 did not conform with the constitution Peking, with Britain's co-operation, had drawn up for Hong Kong when it reverts to China. China insistently warned before the Patten "reforms" were implemented that they meant the sitting council would have to be stood down at midnight on 30 June 1997 - an entirely unwelcome step imposed on Peking by Mr Patten,

It is reasonable because the government of post-transition Hong Kong will need a legislature and because instant elections would overload a new administration. Therefore a nominated body is needed to serve until a new council can be elected in 1998 on the constituency basis agreed between Britain and China before Mr Patten's appointment.

It is justified because the reforms Mr Patten introduced in 1993 were a gerrymander, unilaterally changing the agreed constituency basis for the 1995 elections so as to strengthen the electoral chances of the anti- Peking party. Peking had agreed to the steady, progressive democratisation of the Hong Kong polity, but Mr Patten, defying China's objections, fast- forwarded that process - and what Peking is now doing is switching to "rewind".

NEVILLE MAXWELL

Oxford

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