ONE of Hong Kong's best-kept secrets is the government blueprint that is supposed to prevent anything similar to the Wei Jingsheng affair happening in the territory after 1997. Tabled in the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) last summer, these are proposals on how to implement, in the least dangerous way, one of the most objectionable parts of the Basic Law. This is Article 23, which requires the Special Administrative Region Government to enact laws prohibiting treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Central People's Government. Subversion was, of course, the offence for which Mr Wei was so recently convicted - sending shivers down the spines of those who fear the same may happen here after the handover. No one is saying how the Government hopes to prevent this. When confronted by Democratic Party leaders last week, Governor Chris Patten was full of reassurances about how his blueprint is fully compatible with the Bill of Rights - implying there is little cause for concern. But he refused to give details. Even the Democrats' two-month deadline, after which they threaten to table a private member's bill to clarify the matter, failed to shake his insistence on sticking to the JLG's vow of secrecy. But some light is shed on this mystery by the Government's confidential legislative programme for the 1995-96 session. This reveals plans to table a Crimes (Amendment) Bill in July 'to adapt provisions on treason and sedition'. In perhaps the understatement of the year, it warns this is 'a highly sensitive subject' and predicts the bill will generate intense controversy among legislators. But the programme makes no mention of the other two related requirements under Article 23: for laws against subversion and secession. Neither concept exists in common law and Hong Kong officials privately say the Government has no intention of trying to devise its own definition. Chinese-language press reports last week suggested the administration believes subversion can best be categorised as simply falling within the offence of treason. Some experts believe the same may be true of secession, which appears to mean encouraging the breakup of China. Taken together, this anecdotal evidence suggests Mr Patten's top-secret blueprint consists of no more than trying to persuade Beijing that all of Article 23 can be implemented merely by removing the colonial flavour from the Crimes Ordinance, which already covers treason and sedition. If so, this represents a brave - albeit naive - attempt to defuse one of the biggest threats to human rights after 1997. The existing ordinance may be draconian. But it does impose strict limits upon who can be prosecuted. Treason is basically restricted to acts of war and those involved in the use of force against the Crown (for which, in future, read the Central People's Government). Sedition is much broader in scope. But the ordinance expressly prohibits its use against anyone simply trying to point out errors made by the Government, or procure a change of policy through lawful means. This suggests Mr Wei should have nothing to fear were he to be prosecuted under the Crimes Ordinance, before or after 1997. But it is too much to hope that Beijing will be prepared to accept British proposals on a matter of such extreme sensitivity. So far there has been no response from the JLG. Nor is one expected anytime soon, judging from the Government's secret scheduling of the Crimes (Amendment) Bill for the final fortnight of the current legislative session. Certainly there is no intention of meeting the Democrats' two-month deadline. More likely, it will never be tabled at all. It is hard to imagine any issue which China is more likely to regard as purely its own internal affair - to be resolved after 1997. This means it will be left to Beijing to devise its own definition of what is meant by subversion and it is hard to believe they will be as benign in their interpretation as Mr Patten has tried to be.