HONGKONG Bank chairman Sir William Purves used a business trip to Beijing in early February to try to persuade Chinese Prime Minister Mr Li Peng to authorise a resumption of talks on the territory's political future. Sir William, a veteran Executive Councillor, was ostensibly leading a team of senior bank officials to the Chinese capital on monetary matters, but the protracted Sino-British row over constitutional changes came up in discussions. It is understood Sir William met Mr Li when the Executive Council had already approved in principle Governor Mr Chris Patten's proposals, but was locked in intense discussion over whether to defer gazetting the bill giving them effect. Sir William told Mr Li that Britain was prepared to defer the gazette if China agreed to talk. Mr Li gave no response. A source said Sir William was opposed to sending the bill to the Legislative Council at that stage. Although the Government had promised to submit it by the end of February, the gazetting of it has been deferred for the past four Fridays, the day on which this procedure is carried out. Sir William could not be reached for comment last night. Following a series of internal meetings last month, Mr Li and the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, Mr Jiang Zemin, were said to have jointly endorsed the move to re-open talks with Britain. But there was still no sign of a breakthrough yesterday, with senior Executive Councillor Lady Dunn saying the situation remained the same as last Friday. It is said that there were still enough dissenting voices on the Chinese side to prevent an announcement being made. A senior official of the local branch of the New China News Agency last night strongly criticised the British authorities for blocking the resumption of talks. Mr Zhang Junsheng, a vice-director, said the British side would bear ''historical responsibility'' if it continued to create obstacles by leaking details of diplomatic exchanges. ''The decision on the resumption of talks have not been finalised at the present moment,'' Mr Zhang said. ''It is meaningless for the Hongkong officials to talk so much. The Hongkong Government officials should stop saying so much to mislead the Hongkong public. ''We have wasted a lot of time since Mr Patten damaged the mechanism of consultation between China and Britain. ''We hope the British side returns to the track of consultation as soon as possible.'' The Governor is expected to be under intense pressure from liberal legislators tomorrow when he attends his regular monthly question time. Speaking after yesterday's three-hour Exco meeting, Lady Dunn said: ''I've nothing to say today. The Governor already explained [the latest developments] in the Legislative Council last Friday. The situation is still the same as what he stated.'' Echoing her views, another Executive Councillor, Professor Felice Lieh-mak, said everybody wanted the two sides to return to the negotiations table. Asked if there would be a fifth deferral, she said: ''Well, I think you will have to wait a couple more days.''