A LEADING credit rating agency has predicted that China would probably put an end to Hongkong's role as a world-class financial centre by meddling in the territory's affairs after 1997. Moody's Investor Services, in its analysis of the credit-worthiness of the Hongkong Government, also says ''inflation is likely to remain stubbornly high''. In its annual report on Hongkong, sent to bankers worldwide, the agency leaves its rating of Hongkong Government debt in foreign currencies unchanged at A3 - one notch above China's Baa1. ''The ratings apply to debt and bank deposits, and they reflect the influence of a fast-approaching date - June 30, 1997,'' says the Sovereign Credit Report by Moody's. The rating is a notch below the A2 given to Thailand and Malaysia, and two notches below the A1 given to South Korea. It says a full-blown crisis, such as a banking collapse ''remains remote'', and endorses the Government's strong economic growth forecast. But it says China will put its own interests above the territory's and ''is likely to intervene more frequently in the affairs of Hongkong, and with less regard for the practices of competitive markets''. Hongkong will remain a regional centre, powering the development of south China, but with a ''reduced international profile''. Mike Hanson, spokesman for Governor Chris Patten, said he was pleased that Hongkong's credit rating was unchanged, but would not comment on the associated remarks from the New York-based ratings specialists of Moody's. ''As long as the joint declaration is implemented in full, in substance as well as fact, Moody's will have no reason to change Hongkong's credit rating after 1997,'' he said. The judgment of Moody's is: ''As a country with a tradition for political expediency, China may also intervene in Hongkong in ways that bypass the agreement [the Basic Law] altogether.'' The agency's biggest rival, Standard and Poor's, put Hongkong's rating on ''credit watch'', after the Sino-British row broke out last year. Unfavourable ratings by these two agencies would increase the cost of raising money for the airport projects as overseas bankers would then demand higher interest payments in return for the greater risk perceived. Although widely respected, the big impact of the agency's opinions have made them an increasing target of criticism, particularly in Australia. Moody's notes, with approval, strong export growth in Hongkong and the relatively low level of debt outstanding. It considers three scenarios for 1997. First, the ''truly hands-off'' approach by China, which would allow Hongkong to continue developing. Second, China giving the Basic Law ''broad respect'', but with some intervention. Third, ''China falls in political and economic disarray, and drags Hongkong into its own crisis''. ''Of the three scenarios, we think the second one is the most likely to occur, and, given the strides of economic development in China, we consider the crisis scenario the least likely.'' However, it does discuss the effect of a crisis, when holders of Hongkong dollars flee into other currencies. It says although the newly-formed Monetary Authority has enough foreign assets to back the Hongkong currency, private investors would be hit by collapsing property prices and unable to meet their debts. It states that this is ''remote'', but notes the build-up of friction in areas such as the size of the reserves to be handed over in 1997 and control of the Legislative Council and the judiciary. It labels Hongkong residents as ''rather unpoliticised'' and the electorate as ''generally apathetic''. ''Confrontation with China is bound to be avoided, because it would, in all likelihood, cause such economic instability.''