Human rights activists are threatening to blow the conspiracy of silence shrouding efforts to relocate Chinese dissidents from Hong Kong to Western nations before the handover.
Pressure is increasing to find places for political exiles amid signs that countries are growing tired of taking them.
British embassies have approached countries asking them to consider taking some of the 40 dissidents estimated to be languishing in Hong Kong.
'If this thing can't be solved discreetly the way the governments want, we will have to start making waves about it publicly,' said a human rights source who asked not to be named.
The comments come after the Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, caused anger in diplomatic circles by revealing he had discussed the issue with Governor Chris Patten and indicating Ottawa would take more dissidents.
However, Mr Axworthy said in Jakarta yesterday Britain had not given him a special list of dissidents whose safety was thought to be at risk after 1997.
Diplomats and groups involved in relocation operations have kept tight-lipped for fear of angering China.
'It's pathetic. They are so nervous about creating waves in their relations with China,' said the source, who claimed governments did not want to harm trading links with the mainland.
Exiled Chinese dissident Han Dongfang said the willingness to consider taking dissidents expressed by Mr Axworthy was encouraging.
'It helps to make Western countries more alert to the fate of Chinese dissidents in Hong Kong when 1997 is approaching quickly,' he said.
'That is a good start and other Western countries would probably follow it.' Mr Han was imprisoned by the Chinese Government for one year and two months after leading workers in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
He has been in Hong Kong since 1993 but said he did not wish to be resettled in another country.