British MPs tp hear mainland opinions

BEIJING'S Ambassador to Britain will give MPs China's view of relations over Hong Kong just hours before next week's debate on the territory.

Ma Yuzhen, who is known for speaking out on relations between Britain, China and Hong Kong and has found himself summoned to the Foreign Office several times in recent years, will speak to the Anglo-Hong Kong Parliamentary Group on Wednesday night, 24 hours before the scheduled six-hour debate in the Commons.

Although some might argue that his meeting will be tantamount to getting the first word of influence in the debate, Mr Ma is a well-known figure on the British diplomatic circuit and meets MPs frequently.

Robin Cook, the shadow foreign secretary, recently dined with him and his words at the closed meeting will be more interesting for what they give away on China's thinking following this week's meeting between Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen than anything else.

MPs will use next week's debate to examine Britain's relations with the territory, China and Taiwan with an eye towards booming Asian economies, David Howell, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said.

The debate will focus on the select committee's report last year on the subject. Mr Howell, who has been pressing for the Commons to dicsuss the matter for some time, said the debate was 'well overdue'.

Whitehall sources indicated yesterday that they did not expect Mr Hurd, to make any major announcements in his speech during the debate and it is not being linked to the talks he held this week with Mr Qian in New York.

At this stage it is not clear whether Mr Hurd will open or close the debate for the Government.

'As far as Hong Kong is concerned we will want to discuss where the relationship between London, Hong Kong and Beijing has got to exactly and what progress, if any, Governor [Chris] Patten has made,' said Mr Howell.

But he stressed that it would also take in relations across the region.

'People will want to discuss Britain's prospects with the Asian economies and the whole region and how we see Hong Kong going as a plus rather than a minus,' he said.

'Obviously we will debate Hong Kong issues vis a vis Beijing, but also more broadly, how we make the best of things.' Despite there not having been a full debate on Hong Kong for a few years now Mr Howell insisted that MPs had a continuing concern about the territory and would want to air many issues.