CHINA'S top official on Hong Kong affairs, Lu Ping, may well cross paths with Governor Chris Patten during his trip to the territory this week. Their diaries reveal plenty of potential for overlap. Mr Lu will be commuting between Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) sub-group meetings in the Xinhua (New China News Agency) compound in Stanley and dinners with potential members of the post-1997 administration in Wan Chai, while Mr Patten will be travelling back and forth between Government House and a string of engagements throughout the territory. Some predict their limousines could pass within a few hundred metres of each other, as they crawl through Central's traffic jams. Mr Patten's full schedule is also understood to include various private appointments not listed here (see diagram), but he has offered to alter any part of his schedule to bring about an encounter with the director of China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. 'The Governor's diary is, as always, chock-a-block,' said his spokesman, Kerry McGlynn. 'But there would be no problem in re-arranging his appointments to fit in a meeting with Mr Lu.' Yet, despite this, there will be no such meeting. Not so long ago it seemed possible: only last year Mr Lu privately told the former British Ambassador to Beijing, Sir Robin McLaren, that he expected to see Mr Patten in the near future. But Beijing's stance has toughened since then - after Chinese President Jiang Zemin reportedly 'threw a fit' and insisted there could be no rapprochement with Britain. Now, local leftists believe the two will never see each other again. 'I doubt very much whether they will even meet at the handover ceremony on June 30, 1997. Why should they?' said Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) member David Chu Yu-lin, who in recent months has emerged as one of the mainland cadre's closest confidants. Mr Lu says he is too busy to meet Mr Patten. Certainly his schedule this week is so packed his secretary has even had to tell close friends he has no time to see them and, unlike all previous visits, there will be no reunion with his former classmates from Shanghai's St John's University. Yet there are still some free slots in what is known of his diary, while many appointments only entail preaching to the converted - including at least three meetings and four dinners with the hundreds of Beijing appointees in the territory. These range from PWC members to Hong Kong and district affairs advisers, as well as local delegates to the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. But that is scarcely surprising since Beijing will be deciding, over the next few months, who it wants to sit on the powerful Preparatory Committee, which will handle all transitional matters. And this visit will be Mr Lu's last chance to make up his mind about which local leftists he wants to nominate. Local business leaders will also be high on his agenda. The visiting mainland leader will be guest of honour at two dinners hosted by tycoon Li Ka-shing, and the local Chinese-language press has reported he will meet Kerry Holdings chairman Robert Kuok, who is also chairman of South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. As always, one attempt to reassure Hong Kong's expatriate community has also been written into Mr Lu's schedule. During the last two visits, this was done by giving a speech in English to a business luncheon. This time it will be a breakfast with foreign consuls-general in Stanley on Friday, to which, in a effort to demonstrate fair play, Britain's Senior Trade Commissioner Francis Cornish has also been invited. But some doubt the value of Mr Lu's reassurances. For the diplomatic community is increasingly of the opinion that one of the reasons for the ongoing Sino-British troubles is Mr Lu's position in China. Despite his high status in Hong Kong, he seems simply too junior to resolve the problems. Although elevated to the Communist Party Central Committee in 1992, and tipped for a further promotion before 1997, Mr Lu lacks the political clout of his predecessors. Liao Chengzhi, the first head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, was a Long March veteran on first-name terms with China's leaders. His successor, Ji Pengfei, also had strong revolutionary credentials - and some observers believe he still exercises a substantial behind-the-scenes influence over Beijing's policy towards Hong Kong. By contrast, Mr Lu is a functionary who has to watch his back when it comes to his bosses. 'I've seen him jump like a rabbit when [Chinese Premier] Li Peng came on the phone,' said one diplomat. The seemingly-Westernised Mr Lu may present an occasionally reassuring image - with his Americanised education in Shanghai, penchant for Western food, and a daughter living in Los Angeles, he is generally seen as more sympathetic to Hong Kong's concerns than most Chinese leaders. But the question some political observers are asking is whether Mr Lu has enough clout to give them the reassurances the territory needs? And whether his position is strong enough to help safeguard Hong Kong's interests in Beijing after 1997.