VIEW FROM BEIJING THE breakthrough in London will surprise few in Beijing. The new turn in tangled Sino-British relations was flagged in May when Michael Heseltine became the first British Cabinet member to visit China in two years. Mr Heseltine arrived ostensibly on a mission to forge closer economic ties, but China's desire to set tensions over Hong Kong democracy aside, was signalled by premier Li Peng who was unusually warm. 'Since then doors have opened and officials who were previously unavailable became available,' a diplomatic source said. Thinly-veiled attacks on Britain, through references to China's humiliation in the Opium Wars, have vanished from the state media, and been replaced by praise for London's readiness to invest GBP1 billion (HK$12.2 billion) in Wuhan. This has not, however, changed the Chinese Foreign Ministry's contempt for Governor Chris Patten or his democratic reforms. At weekly briefings, he is still pointedly referred to without his title and the elections as 'Patten's elections'. China has made it clear that, although it is prepared to normalise its business with London, it has no intention of dealing directly with Mr Patten, or of accepting his decisions. Arguably, China now feels it has done all it can to isolate him, and will exclude him from further negotiations. Beijing will have watched with satisfaction the way the Conservative Party stamped on his recent appeal to give more Hong Kong people the right of abode. The London breakthrough has also been eased by the resignation of Douglas Hurd, who as foreign secretary had been obliged to back Mr Patten. Beijing undoubtedly feels more comfortable with Malcolm Rifkind, a fresh face, unspoiled by the numerous rows and the invective directed at Mr Patten. Most of all China now feels that it has done enough to ensure no one in Hong Kong can harbour illusions about how Beijing interprets the territory's right to a high degree of autonomy. So it is now time to co-operate with Britain to restore public and financial confidence in the handover. With China's foreign policy under attack at home and abroad, a show of flexibility, may also provide a welcome diplomatic bonus.