Hurd urges JLG action

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 1994, 12:00am

BRITISH Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd will today make a direct push for the bogged-down Joint Liaison Group (JLG) to get on with the job.

He will hold an unprecedented meeting with the Chinese JLG delegates, officials from the Foreign Ministry who answer to Foreign Minister Qian Qichen.

Diplomacy would normally dictate that Mr Hurd communicate the British Government view only to Mr Qian.

But Mr Hurd is anxious to impress on the Chinese diplomats that London is keen to see more rapid progress in the JLG, which meets again in Beijing next week.

Mr Hurd flew into the territory yesterday for a two-day visit, but landed in the middle of an escalating political row between Hong Kong and Beijing over the choice of the Jardine Matheson Group to operate the Container Terminal 9 (CT9) project.

The Government yesterday warned of disastrous consequences to international business confidence in Hong Kong if Jardines was forced to leave the project in the face of Chinese opposition.

The British Chamber of Commerce accused Beijing of interfering in the territory's affairs.

The vast port development programme is one of dozens of major issues bogged down in the JLG.

'It clearly [the JLG agenda] should go faster. There is a big volume of work; a lot of it is not controversial, it is not political - it is technical and legal,' Mr Hurd said.

British and Hong Kong officials have warned repeatedly of damage to the well-being of the territory if matters such as the localisation of laws and air services agreements remain unresolved.

Officials also expressed hope for an early blessing from the Chinese side on the draft bill on the setting up of the Court of Final Appeal.

Sources said last night this was the first time Chinese members had been invited to meet the Foreign Secretary.

The British team leader Hugh Davies will also attend the meeting.

Mr Hurd is expected to 'thank the members' and speak positively on the prospects of greater progress at the JLG.

Sources emphasised the meeting was 'informal' and that no specific issues would be discussed in great depth.

Mr Hurd's visit will set the stage for his meeting with Mr Qian, who is Vice-Premier, in New York in a fortnight.

Mr Hurd said the New York talks would be an opportunity for the two sides to pursue shared interests between Britain, Hong Kong and China.

'It is not a matter of offering him [Mr Qian] something. It is a matter of what is the shared interest of Britain, Hong Kong and China, and as I see it the shared interest of all three is that Hong Kong should move as smoothly as possible to the transfer of sovereignty in the middle of 1997.

'If that is the shared interest of China too, then there are all kind of things which I'll be discussing with the Foreign Minister,' Mr Hurd said.

He refused to predict if the talks would lead to substantial progress on important issues such as the airport project, the CT9 and other outstanding JLG matters.

Nevertheless, he hoped to achieve some progress on the outstanding matters and was looking forward to speeding up the work of the JLG.

Mr Hurd met Governor Chris Patten and senior aides at Government House last night before meeting a group of British businessmen.

He attended a dinner hosted by the Governor and is scheduled to meet Executive and Legislative Councillors this morning.

Mr Hurd will tour the Chek Lap Kok airport site and a Sha Tin housing estate before rounding off his trip at a press conference.