Fears of UK back-pedalling

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 July, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 July, 1993, 12:00am

LIBERALS last night warned that Britain should not back away from its pledge to give Hongkong greater democracy, when Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd visits Beijing next week.

United Democrat chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said he could not rule out the possibility that Britain would climb down in its campaign to bring the territory a faster pace of democratisation.

Mr Lee said Mr Hurd's trip showed little progress had been achieved in the six rounds of talks between China and Britain on political reform for Hongkong.

But he said an agreement might not necessarily be bad - it would have to be judged by Governor Chris Patten's self-set criteria, that any accord be ''fair, open and acceptable to the people of Hongkong''.

Independent legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said she was alarmed by news of Mr Hurd's trip, which she said indicated Britain was going to back-pedal on its plans to broaden democracy.

''If they want to talk to the Chinese, fine. But I hope they will not put forward a watered-down package. I have already told them to discount my vote if that's what's happening,'' she said.

Ms Lau said Hongkong people had been kept in the dark and Britain should ''come clean'' about its intentions.

However, Meeting Point legislator Fred Li Wah-ming was more optimistic.

''I hope Mr Hurd can solve the deadlock over the new airport and the Container Terminal No 9,'' he said.

''On political reform, I hope Mr Hurd can create a good atmosphere and pave the way for the eighth round of talks,'' he said.

Mr Li said he did not fear a secret agreement between the two governments, because any deal had to be approved by the Legislative Council.

''Any agreement will be judged by the extent of acceptance it receives from Hongkong people,'' he said.

Liberal Party legislator Henry Tang Ying-yen said the trip was a positive development, with both the British and Chinese governments reaching some initial understandings or agreements.

''I think it's unlikely that Mr Hurd will fly all the way to Beijing to engage in a row with them,'' he said.

Although he did not believe all issues would be settled, Mr Tang hoped the visit would at least bring a breakthrough, because Hongkong people were ''getting a bit tired''.

His Liberal Party colleague Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee was happy to see the two governments were making positive moves.

She hoped the contacts would allow a compromise, which was what Hongkong people wanted as the best way out of the stalemate over the 1994-95 electoral arrangements.

Legislators Tam Yiu-chung and Samuel Wong Ping-wai said they believed the meeting had been arranged in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding on the new airport projects which states the two foreign ministers should meet twice a year.

Mr Wong said the meeting showed both sides had narrowed their differences on the financial arrangements for the airport and its associated rail link.

They were still miles away on the political issues, Mr Wong said.

The chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC), Qiao Shi, is to officiate at the inaugural meeting of the working panel which will establish the Special Administrative Region Preparatory Committee.

It is understood that Mr Qiao, as head of the Chinese legislature, will award certificates to all 57 members of the panel at the opening ceremony in Beijing on July 17 and 18.

A source said Chinese President Jiang Zemin might meet the 57 members.

The working panel was formally established yesterday after the Standing Committee of the NPC endorsed the proposal.

Headed by the Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, the 57-strong committee will comprise 30 Hongkong members and 27 mainland appointees.