Political reform talks

THE fate of the political reform talks could be decided by conference call, officials in London hinted yesterday.

British sources said they believed another meeting of the special cabinet committee on Hong Kong, chaired by Prime Minister John Major, was likely to be held before Governor Chris Patten's October 6 policy address.

A Downing Street official said that, while no dates have been fixed yet, it would not be necessary for Mr Patten to travel to London if one was held.

He said this could instead be done by an inter-continental telephone link-up, that would include Mr Patten and British chief negotiator Sir Robin McLaren.

Among the others participating would be Mr Major, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, and Minister for Hong Kong Alastair Goodlad.

It is understood the possibility of a telephonic cabinet committee has already been discussed at Government House.


Observers say it is seen as a solution to the tight timetable in the run-up to the policy address, which is expected to see the two foreign ministers meet in New York on October 1 while Mr Major departs for the Conservative Party conference on October 4,making a full-scale meeting all but impossible.

The cabinet committee last met on July 1, when it agreed to allow the talks to continue until at least September, but is understood to have agreed to Mr Patten's request to adopt a different negotiating posture if no breakthrough was achieved after that.