A SENIOR China adviser last night dismissed claims that a church conference due to take place in Hong Kong a week after the handover must be discussed by the Joint Liaison Group (JLG). Xinhua (the New China News Agency) has said the Lutheran church conference, scheduled for July 8 to 16 next year, must go before the JLG since it is a matter 'that straddles 1997'. It has urged the church to postpone the event because it falls too close to handover celebrations. But Raymond Wu Wai-yung, a co-convenor of the Preparatory Committee sub-group on handover celebrations, said the event did not require JLG approval. Non-governmental bodies could hold activities in private venues as long as they did not involve Government backing, he said. All organisers needed to do was inform Beijing of their events as a matter of courtesy. Whether the timing was appropriate, with the handover so close, was a matter for the organisers. 'It is up to you if you want to plan sports events when the Olympics Games are on,' he said. There also seemed to be confusion within Xinhua yesterday as to whether the matter should go to the JLG. Xinhua vice-director Zheng Guoxiong said like franchises and cross-1997 infrastructure projects, the religious meeting should be discussed at the JLG. 'It is stated in the Joint Declaration that all matters happening after the handover should go to the JLG,' he said. There was no question of China targeting religious activities, he said, maintaining that the outcome of any JLG talks would not contradict guarantees of religious freedom promised under the Basic Law. The crux of the issue was that the British Government could not make any decisions on issues after the handover. But Xinhua assistant director, Lee Wui-ting, said the issue had been exaggerated. The schedule for the assembly could be discussed further, he said. A Hong Kong official said it was 'absolutely bizarre' for a religious assembly to go before the JLG. 'Does that mean that every conference booked between 1997 and 2047 should be discussed with the Chinese Government?' He said the Xinhua move would send disturbing signals that freedoms would not be protected after the handover.