Prepare for the worst

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 August, 1994, 12:00am

SOUR comments from the Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office on the state of Sino-British relations are so frequent they no longer carry much impact. It is clear that China has no enthusiasm for co-operating with the architect of the territory's political reforms, even though working together is critical to Hong Kong's future. So Lu Ping's prediction of a bad atmosphere at next month's meeting between British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, seems par for the course.

Hong Kong may be becoming inured to such comments, but Britain would be wise to take them as a warning. The lesson from Foreign Office Minister Alastair Goodlad's recent disappointing visit to China is that Beijing is in no mood to kiss and make up. Despite all the talk about co-operating on non-political issues, the prospects for the meeting with Mr Qian, and for the Joint Liaison Group meeting a few days earlier, are not encouraging. Instead of trumpeting these meetings as opportunities for bridge-building, Britain should play their significance down.

If China turns out to be ready for progress, there is room for pleasant surprise. That is not to say there is no urgent business - but there is now a mood of pessimism absent a few weeks ago. It would be folly to build up hopes of a breakthrough only for Mr Hurd to be made to look as foolish as Mr Goodlad.