Tough choices face Patten on reform talks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 1993, 12:00am

DIFFICULT decisions will have to be made if Sino-British talks on constitutional reform are not to drag on, the Governor, Chris Patten, said yesterday.

Legislators were concerned that a two-week break before the fifth round of talks opened might hold up reforms.

They feared laws to change the electoral system before polling in 1994 and 1995 would not be in place when the Legislative Council session ends on July 21.

Speaking after a walkabout in Tsuen Wan, Mr Patten said: ''Time isn't infinite and we do have administrative imperatives. We owe it to the community to get the arrangements in place as soon as we reasonably can.

''If we go on for a very long time and don't appear to be making any progress, then I think the community will expect me to govern and to govern means taking decisions even when they are difficult.'' He declined, however, to set a deadline for the talks to end so the bills governing arrangements for the 1994 District Board and 1995 Legislative Council elections can go to legislators before they break up for the summer.

''If I was to ring dates on the calendar and set deadlines I don't think it would be conducive to the good atmosphere of the talks,'' he said.

But he was confident Legco would still have time to deal with the election bill.

The visiting Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with special responsibility for Hongkong, Alastair Goodlad, backed the Governor. He said the talks must not be allowed to continue indefinitely.

After meeting the Secretary for Home Affairs, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, Mr Goodlad said: ''There is no deadline on the talks. Obviously they must not continue indefinitely, but there must be adequate time to cover all important issues.

''We will make sure there is adequate time for legislation.'' Mr Goodlad denied there were changes in British Government policy towards China. Policy remained as it always had been, which was to implement the Joint Declaration for the greater prosperity and stability of Hongkong, he said.

Executive Councillor Raymond Ch'ien Kuo-fung said: ''Whenever a negotiation has reached a critical point, both sides should sit down and reflect on what has been discussed so far to decide on the next step. They just can't keep on negotiating,'' he said.

But he stressed there was a time limit.

''If there is no election in 1995, it would trigger a real constitutional crisis in Hongkong,'' he said.

He added that the Legislative Council could continue to scrutinise the bill during the summer recess.

The British Ambassador to Beijing, Sir Robin McLaren, yesterday explained that the two-week break was due to other commitments for both representatives.

''It's because of the other commitments that representatives have, particularly, the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Jiang Enzhu,'' he said.

He assured that the two-week break would not affect the progress of the talks.

''I don't see why it should. Naturally, we want to get on as quickly as possible,'' he said.


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