BRITISH officials were right to deny that extending GBP1 billion (HK$12.16 billion) in export credits to China was part of an attempt to improve relations. When countries such as the United States, Germany and France are jumping into China with both feet, it would be an insult to suggest a GBP1 billion credit would buy much goodwill. Nonetheless, Britain surely would not mind if the credit incidentally helped take some of the chill out of relations with China, while Beijing realises that the Hong Kong card has a shelf life of fewer than 900 days, and must be played sooner rather than later. It is in the interests of both countries, and of Hong Kong, that when one side extends an olive branch, the other should grasp it with both hands, instead of counting the number of olivesand asking what other branches are available. Britain's gesture does not indicate that London is preparing to move from row mode to kowtow mode in its relations with Beijing. Everyone wants to do business with China, and Britain would still be keen to oil the wheels of commerce if Chris Patten were the Member of Parliament for Bath, and a China-friendly governor were installed in Government House. China knows all this, but it also knows that Britain is at least trying to appear friendly, and now may be the time for a gracious gesture by Beijing. For a start, China should bring an immediate end to the row over Container Terminal 9 (CT9). The claim last week by Jardine Matheson Holdings that its problems with China were of a public-relations nature was more amusing than convincing, but face-saving gestures often appear comical, and China need not quibble now. Perhaps the Hong Kong Government might have acted more sensitively in the first place over CT9, but it is now China that is prolonging the costly and damaging row. Beijing tends to take a long-term view on most issues, but when it comes to Hong Kong, there is no time for endless delays. Beijing could make another contribution to the territory's development by quickly approving the outstanding financing arrangements for the new airport, while Britain and China should immediately finalise, and announce, a firm date for Foreign Minister Qian Qichen's visit to London. Stability of a sort can be imposed on Hong Kong, but prosperity cannot. The real test of sincerity on the Hong Kong issue comes not in words, but in a readiness to put aside problems that are hindering the territory's development. Beijing should react positively to London's gestures.