HONG KONG officials said landmark informal talks with their Chinese counterparts yesterday had improved their confidence in the transition. The meeting had helped remove jitters about the changeover to Chinese rule, said Secretary for Housing Dominic Wong Shing-wah, speaking on behalf of the government team. 'We have had Chinese officials making reassuring remarks about the future of Hong Kong and I believe it will be extremely useful and give a positive signal to the people of Hong Kong,' he said. The positive mood was in sharp contrast to the past few weeks of controversy over the Bill of Rights, a proposed shadow government and 'runaway' welfare spending. Asked about the atmosphere, senior Beijing official Wang Fengchao said: 'Did you see any adverse effect? It's quite good, isn't it.' Mr Wang, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, described the 180,000-strong civil service as the 'supporting pillar' of the Government. He cited remarks made by Vice-Premier Qian Qichen that the civil service was a foundation of wealth for Hong Kong people. 'We sincerely hope that all civil servants put their minds at ease and continue to serve Hong Kong people and the government of the Special Administrative Region after 1997,' he said after the four-hour meeting at the Jockey Club clubhouse in Happy Valley. The civil service would be a 'reliable force' after 1997 for the policy of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong'. Both sides agreed the meeting was a friendly discussion held in a 'harmonious and cordial' manner. Mr Wong hoped communication between officials at all levels would be further strengthened and enhanced. Mr Wong said: 'We were able to talk about our own work and to answer questions in relation to our own type of work. We believe it was a very important and useful occasion for the two sides to meet and to understand one another more fully.' Secretary for Civil Service Michael Sze Cho-cheung said 'nothing sensitive' was discussed but declined to go into detail. 'There's nothing special. We have explained our work to them,' he said. The two sides had agreed the contents of the discussion would not be divulged. 'It's important that some of our colleagues who have had no chance to talk to them before are able to communicate with them directly,' he said. Mr Sze, who liaised with Xinhua (the New China News Agency) on the arrangements, said the second session was being planned and was expected to be held shortly. Yesterday's meeting was the first of a programme of informal get-togethers agreed between Mr Qian and Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind in London in October. It was attended by Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing-ping; Director of Education Lam Woon-kwong; Commissioner for Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan; Director of Housing Fung Tung; his deputy Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun; and a Principal Assistant Secretary for the Civil Service Joshua Law Chi-kong. The Chinese side included a vice-director of Xinhua, Zheng Guoxiong; Joint Liaison Group Chinese team leader Zhao Jihua; and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office political affairs department, Xu Ze.