CHINA gave a strong reassurance to Hong Kong's jittery civil service yesterday. In an effort to ease employment fears, Vice-Premier Qian Qichen said: 'We hope that all serving civil servants of the Hong Kong Government can stay beyond 1997 and continue to serve the people of Hong Kong and the Special Administrative Region [SAR].' He spent a third of his closing address to the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) plenum stressing that keeping the 180,000-strong civil service stable was of paramount importance. Mr Qian, the PWC chairman, said China would use every opportunity to propagate its policy towards civil servants so that the message would 'penetrate the hearts and minds of the people'. 'The Chinese Government will not send a single mandarin and staff,' he said. His statements follow similar soothing messages from senior Chinese officials Lu Ping and Zhou Nan over the past two months. Mr Lu, Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said during a visit to the territory in May that the civil service was a great asset for the future SAR. Mr Zhou, director of the local branch of Xinhua (the New China News Agency), gave an unprecedented address to a group of senior government officials early this month in which he said Beijing would not be 'settling old scores' after the handover. One PWC member, Professor Lau Siu-kai, said Mr Qian's remarks showed Beijing would concentrate efforts on maintaining the administration's stability in the run-up to 1997. He added that China had always wanted to uphold a stable fleet of government employees as the major forces to run the SAR. Professor Lau said he believed government officials would definitely play a role in the work of the Preparatory Committee to be constituted next year to handle matters directly relating to the formation of the SAR. Details of the form of participation would have to be discussed by the Chinese and British governments, he added. The matter was likely to be high on the agenda when Mr Qian visited Britain in October. Professor Lau said: 'The fact that Mr Qian spoke at length on the civil service shows that the Sino-British relationship has greatly improved.' In his speech, Mr Qian said: 'We always say we are not going to form a new team to take over the Hong Kong Government when we resume the exercise of sovereignty. 'When we talk about 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong', one of the implications is that the future SAR Government will be composed of local people. 'So who are the local people to form the SAR government? . . . We can't imagine that we can count the present team of civil servants out and reconstitute another one to run the Government after 1997. This is not conducive to a smooth transition and long-term prosperity.' The civil service was a 'great asset' to Hong Kong and played a pivotal role in the Government's operation, he said. The maintenance of the continuity and stability of the civil service would help ensure the best efforts were made to uphold stability and prosperity of the territory as a whole. He repeated provisions in the Basic Law stating only a few principal officials would have to be nominated by the chief executive and appointed by the central Government.