CHINA is to attend a United Nations hearing in Geneva which will scrutinise Hong Kong's human rights record. Francisco J. Aguilar Urbina, chairman of the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), said Beijing had agreed to send observers to the October 23 hearing, the first time it has been represented at such a meeting. It is also understood China is considering attending a UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hearing on November 26. The hearings will be the last time Hong Kong's human rights record is examined by the UN before the handover. The Joint Declaration and Basic Law state that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights should be continued in Hong Kong after the handover. However, China has maintains that, as it is not a signatory of the treaties, it is not obliged to report on the territory's human rights. The decision to attend the hearings was seen by legislators and local human rights activists yesterday as a sign China could change its stance. Mr Urbina said he invited the Chinese ambassador to Geneva, Wu Jianmin, to attend the hearing in July. He had agreed someone would do so. 'It is important for the Chinese authorities to have first-hand information on what the British Government has to say about in its last report to the UNHRC,' he said. Mr Urbina said it was the first time they had invited a third country to attend a hearing. 'We would like to show to China the UNHRC is independent, not in the hands of Western politicians,' he said. 'I hope it is the first step towards China ratification of the covenant.' He maintained China should report on Hong Kong's human rights situation after 1997. 'I think China and Britain should sit down and talk about what the procedure should be in future,' he said. Mr Urbina said he also told the Chinese ambassador he was willing to visit Beijing if necessary in a further attempt to persuade China to be a party of the covenant. Daniel Fung, the Solicitor-General who will present the Hong Kong report in Geneva, said it was 'a very good and positive development'. Ho Hei-wah, of the Hong Kong Human Rights Commission, welcomed the news yesterday, hoping China would agree to continue British responsibility after the handover. If China decides not to honour the covenant, Mr Urbina said the committee was considering whether it should hold hearings regardless of its co-operation. 'We have discussed this option, not only specifically for Hong Kong, but also for other countries which ratified the covenant but do not submit reports,' he said. Meanwhile, Mr Urbina stressed the committee would not allow any protests during the hearing. Some Democratic Party legislators have planned to protest in Geneva against the provisional legislature.