Plea to China on Legco vote
THE Chief Secretary, Sir David Ford, yesterday expressed hope that China would be prepared to accept the constitutional development package supported by the Legislative Council when the law-making body passes its verdict on the reform plan.
Even if the Legislative Council decided to amend the proposals put forward by the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, Sir David said the administration would feel comfortable to abide by the legislature's judgement and hoped that China was also prepared to accept it.
Speaking at a year-end briefing, Sir David denied that the Government's political blueprint was designed to confront China and he also dismissed suggestion that Britain had changed its policy towards Hongkong.
Commenting on the draft legislation on the electoral arrangements to be tabled to Legco, Sir David said the Government would need to be convinced that there were viable, credible and well-supported alternatives available to the administration if theywere to substantially amend the Governor's proposals.
Sir David conceded that the British side was in a difficult position as China had made it clear that if there were to be a dialogue between the two sides on the constitutional reform plan, the Governor had to abandon his proposals.
''I don't know many people in Hongkong who believe that it's a viable option for the Government to withdraw the proposals which it has put forward to the people of Hongkong,'' he said.
''Those proposals, as decided by the Executive Council, will be put to the Legislative Council sometime in February and then it would be a matter for Legco to decide in the best interest of Hongkong people.
''At the end of the day, I think there will be a consensus around which people will . . . the Legco will vote on those proposals. They may be amended, we have said that they are simply proposals and we are certainly not set against them being amendedin any way.
''I believe that the Hongkong Government will be prepared to accept the verdict of Hongkong people as expressed through the Legco on those proposals providing what emerges is fair and open. I think China will also wish to take account of the views of the people of Hongkong on these proposals as expressed through Legco.'' He added: ''Our ability as a Government to influence that process [the Legco discussion on the draft legislation] is as I've said quite limited,'' pointing out Government had only three official votes in Legco.
Although Mr Lu Ping, the director of the Chinese State Council's Hongkong and Macau Affairs Office, had noted uncertainty over the summit meeting between the two foreign ministers in March, Sir David said the Government would see the benefit of the meeting and expected it to go ahead.
The Government, he said, was also anxious to ensure that the difficulties on the constitutional package did not spill over to the wide range of contacts on a number of issues including the economic front.
Sir David also indicated optimism in Hongkong's economic growth in the coming year although Mr Lu had warned that if Hongkong chose to confront China, the territory would suffer economically.
''Nothing that we have done or the British Government has done has in any way been designed to challenge the fundamental strength of Hongkong's economy,'' Sir David said.
He said it remained the Government's aim to maintain a good relationship with China as it was a very important element to Hongkong's confidence and stability.
But he also noted that in the past the importance of maintaining a good relationship sometimes could not be the overriding factor for making Government decisions, citing the Bill of Rights and the British nationality scheme as examples.
Sir David also denied that Britain had changed its policy towards Hongkong.
''If you believe that to put the proposals on the table rather than discussing them in private and in secret is a change of policy, I cannot agree with you.'' See also Page 3