I TOOK part in the Sino-British negotiations in 1982, and two years later, in 1984, we reached an excellent agreement which was satisfactory to all. After the signing of the Joint Declaration, relations between the two countries entered a new era, bringinggreat benefits to Hongkong, Britain and China. Suddenly came the row which was as unexpected as it was unfortunate. I had expected that during this second half of the transition period there would be closer co-operation as required by the Joint Declaration, and so we were totally taken aback when the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, put forward his proposals. As is well known, during the last 150 years of British rule, Hongkong was under the dictatorship of a Governor. We, on the other hand, are greatly in favour of introducing democracy to Hongkong. We wanted to do it gradually, taking into account the territory's historical background. However, it was actually [former Governor] Lord Wilson who first proposed the idea of a step-by-step approach, which [Chinese paramount leader] Mr Deng Xiaoping accepted. Following this, China and Britain held consultations and eventually reached an agreement on elections to the Legislative Council. What was agreed was written into the Basic Law. The strongest evidence of this are the seven letters exchanged between the foreign ministers of the two countries. First, the letters fully acknowledged the process I have described. [British Foreign Secretary] Mr Douglas Hurd, in one of his letters, said: ''. . . I am now prepared to confirm an understanding with the Chinese Government on the following lines. If thefinal version of the Basic Law provides for 20 directly elected seats in the SAR legislature in 1997, 24 in 1999, and 30 in 2003, the British Government would be prepared to limit to 18 the number of directly elected seats to be introduced in 1991.'' Second, the concept of functional constituencies was originally introduced by the Hongkong-British Government, and the proposals were contained in both Green and White papers and explained to the Chinese side during the drafting of the Basic Law. Mr Hurd also wrote: ''I agree in principle with the arrangements which you propose for the Election Committee which could be established in 1995.'' What other evidence can I give to show that a clear understanding was reached between the two sides? Nor was the idea of convergence a strange one to the British side. In fact, Mr Hurd pointed out in yet another letter that the British side paid close attention to the idea of convergence with the Basic Law. The concept of a ''through-train'' (Hongkong legislators continuing in office after the 1997 hand-over), also came from them. Because both sides reached a common ground on the concepts of convergence and the through-train, we reached agreement over elections, and these agreements were written into the Basic Law. From the above, no fair-minded person can deny the Patten proposals were a breach of faith. No sophistry can change this. Not surprisingly, he was criticised by such important British figures as former Governor Lord MacLehose, former prime minister Sir Edward Heath, former attorney-general Lord Shaw-cross, and British negotiator Sir Percy Cradock. What Mr Patten's real motive was for doing what he did we can only guess. There have been many explanations and some were by figures of world renown. They all provide food for thought. After both sides had reached a basic agreement, in the words of Mr Hurd, for ''the most appropriate political structure for Hongkong before and after 1997'', what was left to be consulted were the minor details such as what functional constituencies should be included in the nine new ones, how the boundaries for the direct elections are to be demarcated, and so on. When I met Mr Patten soon after his arrival in Hongkong, I told him that Lord Wilson had raised the matter of the details of the elections arrangements still left to be discussed before he left, and we expected these questions to be resolved. HE NEVER gave me a hint that he had secretly formulated fundamentally different, so-called political proposals, that flew against the original agreement made for the 1995 elections. He dodged us when we asked for an explanation. Only at the last moment, a few days before he announced his proposal, did Britain give a brief explanation to China. We asked Mr Patten not to announce his proposal. He ignored us. Looking back over the developments in the past six months, one can detect that the Patten proposals were carefully planned. While they were cooking them up in London, senior British officers were openly suggesting the Basic Law could be amended. Similar noises could be heard in the Legislative Council. Looking back further still, we now begin to understand why, on the eve of his departure, Lord Wilson had found it necessary to emphasise publicly and repeatedly the importance of having friendly relations with China and avoiding confrontation. Although Mr Patten has undermined Sino-British co-operation, we have not changed our position - we hope to see co-operation instead of confrontation. Earlier on there was a time when we were getting close to talks. An agreement was reached that the talks should proceed on the basis of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the Basic Law, and other relevant agreements. We proposed that talks be held before the end of March. As it concerned the transition of sovereignty, we wanted them held between representatives from the two sovereign countries. China was to have a senior official in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as its representative, and Britain, as it had informed us, would have the British Ambassador to China as its representative. The only problem to emerge was whether there should be a third party participating. We believe talks between two sovereign countries should not include a third party. But the British side proposed that there were people in the British-Hongkong Government who understood the situation well and should be included. Our answer was that Hongkong officials could take part, but only in the capacity of advisers or experts. By the same token, in addition to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, the New China News Agency (NCNA) and the Office of Hongkong and Macau Affairs (OHMA) also have a good understanding of the situation and should participate in the talks as advisers or experts as well. We have not discriminated against anyone, and certainly not against Hongkong officials. However, Britain disagreed because it wanted to give the world the impression of Hongkong as a political entity, creating a so-called ''three-legged stool''. Of course, China would not agree to this. While both sides were seeking a solution to the problem Mr Patten suddenly gazetted his political reform proposal. Before I left for Beijing last month, I had expected to see the first round of talks begin, before the opening of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. It had been implied in Chinese Premier Mr Li Peng's original version of the ''Report on Government Work'' that China hoped to see Britain return to the negotiation table. It had to be revised because of what Mr Patten did. I cannot understand why the Hongkong-British Government acted this way. When Sino-British co-operation was good, why did Mr Patten bring out a totally unacceptable political package? When there was hope for the talks to go ahead, why did he gazette his proposal and destroy the chances of talks? Why did the British Government allow such things to happen? China still has not closed the door to talks - as long as Britain returns to the path charted in the Joint Declaration, Basic Law and other relevant agreements. Participants can include non-formal representatives in the capacity of advisers or experts. Of course, no talks will be possible if the British-Hongkong Government takes a third step - tabling the reform proposal in the Legislative Council. Zhou Nan is director of the local branch of the New China News Agency. These comments were issued by the China News Service from an interview published in the latest issue of Window magazine.