Tamar on defence talks agenda

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 May, 1993, 12:00am

TALKS which resume next week between Sino-British Joint Liaison Group defence experts are unlikely to settle quickly the row over the relocation of the HMS Tamar naval base, sources said yesterday.

In another sign of Sino-British co-operation on the 1997 handover, the two governments announced yesterday that the experts' group on defence and public order will meet from Tuesday to Thursday.

Led by Mr Luo Jiahuan, the mainland team will include members from the Hongkong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council and senior officials from the Ministry of Defence and People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The British team will be led by Mr Alan Paul.

Sources said the Chinese side would raise the issue of the removal of the Tamar military site.

China has attacked the relocation of the base to Stonecutters Island, saying it opposed any ''unilateral'' disposal of military lands.

A source said: ''In previous talks the Chinese side wanted to have certain facilities but the other side refused. The process of bargaining is dynamic and keeps changing. It will take time for two sides to reach a full accord.'' The source ruled out the possibility that the warming of ties between London and Beijing would help the sides reach an early deal over defence.

''We should not be too optimistic. The two sides agreed to sit down and talk. The problems in the past are still the same. It marks the normalisation of contacts at most.'' In addition to the removal of the Tamar base, the Chinese side is angry that Britain has taken no concrete steps to build a new naval base for the Chinese garrison on Stonecutters Island.

It is understood that China expects the naval base to be comparable in scale with the Tamar site on the Wan Chai waterfront.

Beijing will also press the British team to hand over the Prince of Wales Building, the present headquarters of the British garrison, to Chinese troops after 1997.

It is understood Britain prefers the building be turned into offices, arguing that it was not important to the Chinese garrison.

Britain also believes it is too politically sensitive to have PLA headquarters near Hongkong's commercial centre.