BRITISH negotiator Sir Robin McLaren and his team of ''experts'' must this weekend be contemplating how their two rounds of talks in Beijing have led nowhere, despite brave protestations to the contrary made in public. With all the reliable indications suggesting the talks have made absolutely no progress - with China so far refusing to even state its stance on arrangements for the 1994-95 polls - the two sides have almost three weeks to kill before returning to the negotiating table for the third round of discussions. And the British side would be well advised to spend part of that reading the American bible on how to negotiate with the mainland - the Solomon Report, which is used by almost everyone involved in Sino-US relations. It is a bible that caused much excitement last week, as local Chinese-language papers suggested Governor Mr Chris Patten had been highly impressed by the 40-page report's four-step strategy for dealing with Beijing, and predicted this would become a key reference manual for the Hongkong Government in the run-up to 1997. Officials swiftly poured scorn on any such idea, noting the 1985 paper - written by former US assistant secretary of state Mr Richard Solomon, now Washington's Ambassador to Manila - is out of date, as it is based mainly on the tactics used when the US established diplomatic relations with Beijing in the 1970s. It was also noted London has a more up-to-date negotiating manual to hand, in the shape of British Joint Liaison Group team leader Mr Anthony Galsworthy's highly-classified account of lessons to be learnt from the Joint Declaration negotiations of the early 1980s. Yet, despite such disclaimers, the Solomon Report is invaluable for a different reason. The advice given in the US bible supports what was once the Governor's approach to dealing with Beijing, during the first few months after his arrival. And its description of Chinese negotiating tactics casts doubts on the wisdom of the strategy Mr Patten's team has followed over the past few weeks, as they have become sucked into seemingly endless rounds of talks. Indeed, the Solomon Report's warnings read almost like an ABC of the mistakes some believe British negotiators are making. ''The most fundamental characteristic of dealing with the Chinese is their attempt to identify foreign officials who are sympathetic to their cause,'' it says. ''When Chinese officials speak of 'friendship' or identify a foreigner as an 'old friend' it should be remembered that in their tradition friendship implies obligations.'' That, of course, was precisely the snare the Governor so carefully avoided during his October visit to Beijing, when he dodged Mr Lu Ping's suggestion that he, too, could become an ''old friend'' of China. But it is a trap which Britain seems to have fallen into, by allowing veteran sinologist Sir Robin be their sole representative to the talks. Similarly, the US negotiating bible warns the Chinese side will take every opportunity to use previous diplomatic exchanges against their opponents, which is exactly what Beijing has done by forcing the now infamous seven letters between the two foreign ministers on to the negotiating agenda. AND its description of the dangers of being sucked into setting deadlines will strike a chord with all those who believe Mr Patten and his team have caused unnecessary trouble for themselves. ''Chinese distrust quick deals,'' the report warns. ''A Chinese negotiator will try to trap his counterpart against a time deadline in order to build pressure.'' More salutory still is the document's description of the four lengthy phases that negotiations with Beijing go through. These begin with ''Opening Moves'', in which China makes a determined effort to identify an ''old friend'' as a negotiating partner, and establish a favourable agenda, just as Beijing has done in this case, by successfully insisting talks be held on the basis of the Joint Declaration, the Basic Law and the seven letters. These opening moves typically also include securing a commitment to certain general ''principles'' put forward by China. And it is now clear this is exactly what Beijing has been trying to do during the last two rounds - insisting, for instance, that thePatten package can not be the starting basis for talks, before it will allow discussions on the 1994-95 polls to begin. That means, with Britain's refusal to countenance this so far, the present talks are still stuck in the midst of the first phase. Even if they do eventually move on to the second stage, any prognosis based on the Solomon Report's could only be gloomy, because it predicts ''Opening Moves'' are invariably followed by a ''Period of Assessment'' which lasts for months - if not years. This is a time when Beijing tests its opponent's patience, presenting a public image of progress but privately refusing to state its stance, while using all manner of stalling tactics to stop talks from irretrievably breaking down. The US bible warns that only after this stage has been successfully completed can negotiations move on to the ''Endgame'' of reaching an agreement, followed by the fourth and final phase; that of implementing it. It is a report which Mr Patten apparently first read long before he arrived in Hongkong last July. Yet, if the Clinton administration is any friend of his, then the officials he will be seeing in Washington over the next few days would be wise to suggestthat the Governor reads it again, as a reminder of how long the present negotiations in Beijing could yet drag on for.