Fresh row tipped over defence land
A NEW dispute over the handover of Hong Kong's defence land is set to erupt this morning when the current round of expert talks resume.
China will grill the British side over its alleged leak of Chinese demands made in the secretive negotiations.
The Chinese side was said to be furious about reports yesterday saying the mainland experts of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) had made ''new demands'' at the expert discussions on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The talks are scheduled to end today after a one-day break.
Informed sources said: ''The Chinese side will certainly question why the proposals have been leaked to the press.'' The British side was said to be ''surprised'' by the ''new demands'' made by the Chinese team at the first two days of talks.
They were confident that a final deal would be struck when talks conclude today if there were no changes to the Chinese position.
Experts from the two sides agreed at a previous meeting that the size of the new naval basin at Stonecutters Island should be 398 metres by 398 metres.
Sources said the proposal has been turned down by the China's Central Military Commission when it met last month to discuss whether to give its final approval to the deal.
The highest military body insisted that the naval basin should be ''slightly larger'' because of ''technical needs''.
It is understood that China now wants to have a naval basin the size of around 430 metres by 430 metres.
China started the marathon negotiations with a demand for the naval basin to be 480 metres by 480 metres.
Mainland officials have said the replacement naval base should be able to provide berth facilities for military vessels up to the size of aircraft-carriers - just as the HMS Tamar naval base offers.
The British side, however, cast doubts on whether such a large naval base was needed. It also expressed concern that a larger base would cost more to build.
Another ''new demand'' was that the Chinese side wanted to take back one of the 25 military sites it had promised to give to the Government for re-development.
Officials have declined to name the site, which is in the urban area.
Informed sources said it was ''90 per cent sure'' that the long-awaited deal would not be agreed on at the current meeting.
The British side had held out hopes that the deal tentatively agreed by experts would be endorsed at the upcoming JLG full session scheduled for the end of this month.
An early deal would enable the Government to go ahead with plans to turn defence sites in central areas for commercial use.
Without a deal, a source said: ''I doubt if there are developers who will buy the land of sites that have not been cleared with the Chinese military.''