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Call for co-operation

THE Chief Secretary, Sir David Ford, yesterday urged China not to drag other issues into the political debate and to demonstrate its commitment to abide by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and co-operate with Britain in the remaining four years.

Sir David's remarks came as China remained silent about when the next Sino-British Joint Liaison Group and Land Commission meetings should be held. Both are vital to the continuing growth of the economy.

Sir David said legislators' worries about the impact of the political row on the economy was ''an inevitable result, perhaps, of the criticisms we have had in recent weeks and months from Beijing and their local spokesmen''.

While the debate continued, he said: ''We must get on with the work of sorting out other problems.'' ''I think what is really worrying people now is the idea that, as part of pushing forward their views on the political matters under debate, the Chinese Government may extend action into other, unrelated areas, particularly the economy, areas which affect everyone's livelihood,'' Sir David said.

''These are matters which should have nothing to do with politics. Yet I sense the community feels that other matters are being pulled into a political debate where they do not belong and in a way that can only damage Hongkong.'' He pointed out that although the Memorandum of Understanding on the new airport had been signed, it had been a year since Britain and China negotiated the overall financing plan of the new airport.

''People justifiably wonder whether the issue is being considered on its merits, or whether it has become a bargaining chip in a different game,'' he said.

Sir David said the same had happened to the Container Terminal 9 project.

Saying he was encouraged by remarks made by Mr Lu Ping, director of the State Council's Hongkong and Macau Affairs Office, that there was a lot of business to be discussed and both sides should get on with it, Sir David said: ''They are our views too andwe are continuing to propose to the Chinese side that we do indeed get on with it.'' He said the Joint Declaration stipulated that Britain and China should co-operate during the transition period up to June 30, 1997.

''We are prepared to do whatever we can to co-operate with China to realise our joint commitments under the Joint Declaration,'' he said.

''I hope China demonstrate in concrete action their part of the joint commitment is being met.'' But he added: ''I do not believe it is in China's interest to damage Hongkong's economic prospects - in fact, quite the opposite.'' Financial Secretary Mr Hamish Macleod said it was difficult to make accurate provisions owing to the present deadlock in the airport talks over the financial arrangement for the new airport and its rail link.

But he pledged that the Government would in the next few months update legislators on the latest development on the airport core programme projects.

Provisions made for the government-funded airport core programme projects amounted to $10.8 billion in the 1993-94 financial year, Mr Macleod said.

Noting that policy secretaries spent an average of 20 per cent of their time on Legislative Council business, Sir David said: ''I could not say that we have accepted this new dimension to our work joyfully. But I can say with real confidence that all of us readily understand that accountability and openness are an essential ingredient of any democratic system.''