HONGKONG could lose its position as a regional human rights leader if a declaration signed by most Asian nations becomes accepted internationally, Amnesty International has warned. The Bangkok Declaration, signed in March by most Asian governments, including China, dismissed the idea of the universality of human rights as an example of Western liberal thinking, and stated that human rights guidelines in any country should be determined by cultural and economic factors. ''If the declaration is accepted by the world community then it gives governments a licence to kill, torture and imprison people in the name of economic development,'' said Ross Daniels, a representative of Amnesty's international executive committee. And its acceptance could enable China, ''which has the largest number of executions and prisoners of conscience in the world'', to introduce its own rules in Hongkong after 1997 without outside interference, he warned. That could lead to the reduction of freedom of speech and the reintroduction of the death penalty. The Bangkok declaration will be one of the main items on the agenda of the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna from June 14 to June 25, and has given rise to a great deal of concern from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that will be attending. ''We want to make sure this is not going to be a step backwards,'' said Tomoko Shinozaki, of the Tokyo branch of Amnesty, who chaired a meeting of Asia-Pacific Amnesty groups last weekend in Hongkong. ''Just to maintain the current position would be a victory.'' She said the best result they could expect from the Vienna conference would be the continued recognition of human rights as universal. ''Without this basic recognition, the influence of groups like Amnesty, who are trying to stop torture and killings, would be greatly reduced.'' Without an international definition of what human rights are, Amnesty would have less influence and power to force changes, she said. Hongkong legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai will be one of the territory's NGO representatives at the conference, and will spend eight days in Vienna lobbying against the Bangkok Declaration. ''If the tenets of the Bangkok Declaration win through, then there would be an easy excuse to restrict human rights in Hongkong. ''They call it rice before rights, but try telling someone in an Indonesian jail that his demand for a fair trial is a western liberal concept and he won't be very impressed.'' Ms Loh said that if China continued to refuse to sign two important international covenants - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - of which Hongkong, through Britain, is a signatory, there was a danger that the freedom of expression of Hongkong people would be severely limited.