The vice-president of the European Commission has branded China's plans to control the flow of economic information as 'bizarre'. Sir Leon Brittan told a luncheon in Hong Kong of local and European business associations that the plans were 'manifestly inconsistent' with China's plans for membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 'I cannot be sufficiently emphatic about the disquiet caused by China's announcement that the New China News Agency [Xinhua] will be entrusted with the control of the distribution of economic news, and a monopoly for their dissemination,' Sir Leon said. 'This was an extremely inappropriate initiative at a time when there is a general concern about access to China's markets in goods and services, as well as preoccupation over the facilities and freedoms available to businessmen operating in China,' he said. 'It seems to me a bizarre move at a time when China wants to reassure us that it is pursuing its economic transformation.' The European Union has backed China's plans to join the WTO on the proviso that it can meet the threshold standards for a rules-based organisation. 'We cannot engineer China membership on false terms, although in negotiating the right terms we are prepared to give appropriate recognition to the fact that China's economy is still in a transitional phase of development,' Sir Leon said. He emphasised the European Union's support for the Joint Declaration and promised practical assistance during the transition from a colony to a Special Administrative Region (SAR). 'We are looking for appropriate arrangements that take into account the specific mandate and interests of the SAR,' he said. 'One possibility is the sort of horizontal trade and co-operation agreement that links the European Union to Macau.' Sir Leon reiterated the European Community's resistance to imposing sanctions on the mainland for breaches of intellectual property rights. 'We have a different perspective on how to solve the problem,' he said. 'In China I underlined the extreme importance of policy meeting agreements. I also signed an agreement whereby the EC give technical assistance on dealing with the problem. It is a positive way forward,' he said. 'I do not believe the Chinese Government does not want to comply. I believe it does. I believe there are other forces which have a vested interest not to comply. Our policy is to help those that want to comply,' he said. Sir Leon said the EU is giving active support to visa-free access for Hong Kong residents to Europe. Although no decision had been made, the key would be to ensure the law enforcement agencies in Europe were satisfied with the forgery-proofing technical details of the SAR passport, he said. He ruled out any likelihood of the EU entering the debate on the future of an independent Hong Kong legislature. 'It would he a good thing if the issue of legislative continuity had been adequately resolved between China and Britain,' he said. He believed there would be 'no practical benefit from EU intervention' on the matter, which was unlikely to be resolved in the short term.