Britain to attend swearing-in

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 1997, 12:00am

Britain will send two senior diplomats to the swearing-in of the provisional legislature, watering down its boycott of the controversial ceremony.

Joint Liaison Group head Hugh Davies and future consul-general Francis Cornish will represent London at the inauguration of the post-handover body opposed by the British Government.

The Foreign Office stressed the move did not imply approval of the legislature, saying the envoys should witness the appointments of the Chief Executive, government officials and judges for the sake of working relationships.

A spokesman said: 'They are senior people with whom we have no problem at all and we look forward to working with them. The officials who will attend will have the closest dealings with that group.

'This in no way implies approval of the provisional legislature, to which we are adamantly opposed.

'There is no question of British ministers attending, which would be totally inconsistent with our stance and commitment to representative government.' The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook will be at the handover ceremonies but not the investiture which, British officials claim, is intended to gain international legitimacy for the body.

Mr Cook said it was originally planned for ministers and officials to attend the ceremony until Britain discovered that China would use it to swear in the handover legislature.

'At that point we decided the political representative should boycott it,' he said.

'I am not attending, I am the political representative of the British Government.

'But it is for other countries to decide for themselves whether they wish to join us in leaving the ceremony.' The British announcement followed Washington's decision to send Consul-General Richard Boucher to the swearing-in, despite a boycott by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in protest at the abolition of Hong Kong's first fully elected legislature.

It also appeared last night that Britain and the United States had failed to persuade other nations to snub Tuesday's 1.30 am ceremony.

Diplomatic sources said France, Germany and Italy were expected to attend, even though Mr Cook planned a last-ditch attempt in Luxembourg today to persuade European Union partners to refuse China's invitation.

European diplomats were searching for a compromise which would allow their foreign ministers to attend while stating their opposition to the China-appointed body, said an envoy.

Other European nations attending the investiture include Belgium, Finland and Greece. Australia and New Zealand were the first Western nations to break ranks and join the ceremony.

The attendance of Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda was confirmed yesterday.

Mr Boucher's attendance was attacked by US Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. 'The signal to Beijing is a wink and a nod that it will be business as usual,' he said.

A Government House spokesman could not be reached for comment.