THERE are high hopes that tomorrow's summit between British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and his Chinese counterpart Qian Qichen will finally lead to a breakthrough in the protracted arguments over Hongkong's political reforms. After months of intransigence on Governor Patten's 1994/95 package, both sides know that they are now walking a political tightrope. Neither wants to be seen to be weak by compromising after such a long, hard fight. Nor can they afford to take too hard a line or the kind of rigid approach which will kill off any chance of a successful conclusion to the talks. The bottom line for both sides is the same - they want a deal but not at any cost. However, raised expectations in the community for a cease-fire and the hope of a peaceful Hongkong free from political bickering between the two ruling powers has certainly made it more difficult for negotiators. This may prove to be the toughest set of talks for China and Britain since the 1982-84 negotiations over Hongkong's future - each word and each gesture must be thought through. In the past few days, both sides have been trying their best to increase their room for manoeuvre during the Friday summit. Mr Hurd must still have had the British Government's old kowtowing image in the back of his mind on Tuesday when he told Beijing that it must recognise that Hongkong had evolved into a political city requiring freer public participation. This must have been a calculated move. It is unthinkable that Mr Hurd would not be aware that his opposite number had made similar remarks, although to the opposite effect, three months ago. In March Mr Qian specifically warned against Hongkong becoming a ''political city'' with growing political demands. That would mean that the 1984 Joint Declaration was outdated and that the pact should be amended, he said. Mr Hurd's seemingly confrontational approach, so soon before his meeting with Mr Qian, is puzzling. Is the British side playing games again? Is Britain trying to undermine the chance of success in the talks? Shrewd negotiators on the Chinese side must know, however, that Mr Hurd's tough talk is no more than a negotiating tactic - a gesture to tell the world that he is not going to Beijing on a pilgrimage to kowtow to Hongkong's future masters. BEHIND closed doors, the mood across the negotiating table should be different. Instead of provocative statements, the two sides are expected to get down to the real issues. After all, the foreign ministers have waited more than nine months to meet again.Their aim will not be to quarrel. Chinese officials' reluctance to hit back or comment directly yesterday on Mr Hurd's remarks perhaps reflected the Chinese side's assessment of what he said. Indeed, the Chinese are also hoping that a more workable formula for resolving the problem of political reform can be thrashed out even though the contingency plan of setting up another stove - allowing China to make its own preparations for the 1997 changeover - is well under way. While officials from both sides have tried to play down any over-optimism, there has been no lack of effort from the Chinese to lure the British into reaching a deal - an outcome which may be least painful to both sides. In an apparent attempt to demonstrate China's goodwill and sincerity, they now appear to be more accommodating on the question of the through-train arrangements for legislators and other details of the 1994/95 electoral plan. Suggestions especially of more flexibility on the through-train issue, a major stumbling block at the constitutional talks, have been increasingly heard and include the possibility that China might announce well in advance the conditions for legislators elected in 1995 to serve through 1997. Little progress has been reported from the last two rounds of constitutional talks between British ambassador to China, Sir Robin McLaren, and Chinese Vice-Foreign minister, Jiang Enzhu. More concrete suggestions from Mr Jiang's team have also been put to Sir Robin, instead of the past rhetoric on the principles of the so-called three accords; the Joint Declaration, the Basic Law and the previous understandings reached between the two sides. There is even a suggestion that Chinese leaders, including Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin and Executive Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji, may grant Mr Hurd an audience on tomorrow if the summit meeting goes well. If the talks do result in agreement, the Chinese side, after all their efforts to be seen as a reasonable and pragmatic negotiator, can certainly claim some credit. Even if talks prove futile, Beijing can deny any responsibility for that failure. It can point to the fact that it has tried its best to be accommodating. Only the British will be to blame. So China is in a win-win situation. The British, on the other hand, have limited room for manoeuvre. It is almost inevitable that Mr Hurd's tough talk will be seen by Hongkong liberals as the last effort of a paper tiger if a deal is reached which is less democratic than Mr Patten's original political blueprint. Failure may result in the British Government's popularity rising among the liberals. Britain may claim to be standing firm on its pledge for more democracy for Hongkong. However, the British can hardly escape the blame, regardless of whether the criticism is fair or not, if there is no deal. The prospects of Hongkong on a collision course with China for the rest of the transitional period will not make Mr Patten's job of governing the territory any easier. His popular support may also be called into question. It is a difficult game which requires skill and tact. It is also a challenge to Mr Patten's political strength, to keep the British Government standing firmly behind him to the end, regardless of the difficulties involved.