CHINA'S top envoy in Hong Kong, Zhou Nan, has accused Britain of trying to sidestep its commitment to the Joint Declaration. The local director of Xinhua (the New China News Agency) made the claim in yesterday's People's Daily overseas edition, one day after the 10th anniversary of the formal signing of the joint accord. Mr Zhou said Britain had taken an unco-operative and confrontational stance towards China since 1992. 'It has taken a big step backward from its stance over the Joint Declaration and tried to get what it failed to get at the negotiation table,' he said, referring to Britain's attempts to set up a more democratic political structure in Hong Kong. The Xinhua chief also accused Britain of arbitrarily amending the statute book and undermining the executive branch's dominance. '[Britain] has attempted to leave a financial burden on the Special Administrative Region government,' he wrote. 'What they [British officials] are trying to do is to seize the time to groom their agents and establish their own ruling echelon under the cover of 'democracy' and 'human rights'. '[By doing so, they] want to control the political situation of Hong Kong, damage our country's sovereignty and create various obstacles for a stable transition.' He called on colleagues to keep clear heads. The Chinese Government should speed up preparatory work to ensure a smooth transition, he said. Mr Zhou welcomed remarks made by British Government officials that they wanted greater co-operation. 'We are hoping that they can really put their words into action and take concrete steps which lead to a smooth transfer of sovereignty, but not create new troubles and obstacles,' he said.