Hurd vows: no secret HK deals

BRITAIN will never sign another secret deal with Beijing on Hongkong, British Foreign Secretary Mr Douglas Hurd has pledged.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Morning Post, Mr Hurd said London would honour any decision the Legislative Council made concerning the political reform controversy.

And he firmly rebuffed Beijing's warning Legco must not be allowed any say on agreements reached in Sino-British negotiations.

''The constitutional position is clear: Legco is responsible for enacting the legislation for the 1994 and 1995 elections,'' Mr Hurd said. ''We will stand by Legco's decision.'' The most he would offer Beijing was a promise to lobby for legislators to enact any accord reached during such talks.

''If we were able to reach an understanding with the Chinese side, we would recommend it strongly and sincerely to Legco. There will be no secret deals.

''I have no doubt that when the time comes for Legco members to take a decision, they will have the interests of the people of Hongkong in mind.'' But he warned no agreement could be allowed to breach Governor Mr Chris Patten's position of being ''open, fair and acceptable to the people of Hongkong''.

His comments came one day after local New China News Agency Deputy Director Mr Zhang Junsheng sparked fears of a secret deal by insisting executive and legislative councillors had no part to play in discussing the electoral arrangements.

Amid recent reports Sino-British talks were about to resume, Mr Hurd said London was still trying to persuade Beijing to return to the negotiating table.

''We have repeated our invitation to the Chinese authorities many times over recent months to join us in talks about electoral arrangements, and we shall continue to follow this sensible course,'' he said.

Officials said yesterday there would be no announcement on talks in the next few days. Mr Hurd also said no date had been set for his meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Qian Qichen, previously expected to be in April.

The foreign secretary offered an unequivocal commitment Mr Patten would remain until the change of sovereignty, rejecting recent reports of rifts between Government House and London.

''Chris Patten is an outstandingly effective governor, and I have no doubt that he will continue to be so until June 30, 1997,'' Mr Hurd said.

''I recall that Chris Patten said . . . 'You will not be able to put so much as a piece of tissue paper between me and the prime minister.' He was right - and the same goes for me.'' Mr Hurd insisted Britain was committed to the post-'97 ''through train'', even though it had been rarely mentioned by officials since Mr Patten became Governor.

''It remains our policy to seek greater co-operation with China in the interests of achieving a smooth transition. Nothing we have done has deviated from that policy,'' he said.

United Democrats vice-chairman Dr Yeung Sum yesterday welcomed Britain's pledge to stand by any decision taken by Legco, but warned Hongkong people should not place too much faith in Mr Hurd's commitment.

''We cannot take his words at face value,'' he said. ''If he really means what he says he must set up a mechanism through which the Governor can report on the progress of the talks regularly to Legco.'' Dr Yeung said it was vital the Government gazetted the bill on the 1994 and 1995 polls so Hongkong could know the basis for the talks, and the legislative process proceed in tandem with the negotiations.

''It is ridiculous that on the one hand they are stressing there will be no secret deal but then we don't even know what has been approved by Exco,'' he said.

And Co-operative Resources Centre convener Mr Allen Lee Peng-fei - who tomorrow travels to Beijing to meet Chinese Prime Minister Mr Li Peng - said there was little chance of Britain and China bypassing Legco.

''Without a majority of Legco members agreeing to the constitutional reform package there is no way it will become Hongkong law,'' he said.

Meanwhile, a senior Hongkong affairs adviser yesterday warned London had more hurdles to clear before Sino-British talks could resume.

Mr Xu Ximin said the delay in gazetting the draft bills on the Governor's political reform package would not solve the political row, and the only way out of the impasse was for Mr Patten to give up his package.

He doubted the British Government's claim that it was up to the Legco to decide on the future of political reform.

He said the Sino-British Joint Declaration never stipulated that agreements between the two governments should come under the scrutiny of Legco, which is an advisory body for the Governor.