Talks held up over Legco role

Fanny Wong

THE role of the Legislative Council in mapping out electoral arrangements for the 1994/95 polls has emerged as a stumbling block to the resumption of talks between China and Britain.

On the Chinese side, a final decision on whether talks should go ahead is expected to come from the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Li Peng, who until yesterday had not given the green light for the move.

Senior Chinese officials including Mr Guo Fengmin, Chinese Joint Liaison Group (JLG) team leader and Mr Zhou Nan, local New China News Agency (NCNA) director, are gathering in Beijing for an internal assessment of their position before responding to the British initiatives for talks.

It is understood the British side prefers that if there are to be talks, the negotiations should be held as early as possible while the Chinese side sees no urgency in pushing for discussions.

A Chinese source said: ''It is high time for the Chinese side to finalise our bargaining posture and bottom line before we come to the negotiating table with the British. We need considerable time to reach a common consensus and then submit the proposal to Li Peng.'' Last night, Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Qian Qichen reiterated that China would not offer any concessions.

In a China News Service despatch, Mr Qian pointed out that the solution to the current row was for Britain to return to the Joint Declaration and the Memorandum of Understanding on the new airport projects.

On matters relating to major changes to Hongkong's future political system, Britain should fully consult with China to ensure a smooth transition in 1997.

Mr Qian said the Patten plan was an attempt to make major changes to Hongkong's political system, gradually shifting the executive-led government to a legislature-led one.

''The sudden dispute [as stirred up by Britain] does not just happen by chance,'' he said.

Yesterday, the Foreign Office was still dismissive of any prospects of early talks between both sides on the democracy proposals.

Earlier, Chief Secretary Sir David Ford reiterated the British side's readiness for talks.

Sir David said: ''We would obviously like to have talks if possible. We have put the suggestion to the Chinese side many times since October. And we would be very pleased if there were to be talks. But at the moment, there is no firm plans on talks.'' A source said sharp differences between the two sides on the Legislative Council's role on the 1995 electoral plan remained.

Rejecting the ''three-legged stool'' arrangements, that is the Hongkong legislature is allowed a say on matters which should be dealt with by the two sovereign powers, Beijing maintains that only China and Britain and no other third party should decide on the 1995 electoral plan.

But the British side is understood to have maintained that the demand to cut off the legislature from the subject was unpalatable as any matters involving legislative process would require the approval of the assembly.

A Chinese source pointed out the most critical question Beijing wanted to address in the talks would be the continuity of the Sino-British consultation mechanism stipulated in the Joint Declaration.

Noting the Government had no announcement to make yesterday, Government spokesman Mr Mike Hanson reiterated that any electoral package on the 1994/95 elections had to command support from the legislature and the community.

Mr Hanson said: ''We have made it clear that we believe the arrangements for the 1994/95 elections must be fair, open and acceptable to the people of Hongkong, that is they must command the support of the Legislative Council and the confidence of the community.

''We have explained our position to the Chinese side on numerous occasions and these diplomatic contacts are continuing, we hope that they will lead to talks but at this stage we have no announcement to make.''