Speed up JLG work

IT was business as usual at the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group plenary session this week. After three days of talks, both sides reported little progress in important issues that straddle the 1997 handover. Despite optimism from the Chinese side of apossible deal on the disposal of military lands at the start of the talks, none was forthcoming. As before, each side blamed the other for the disappointing outcome.

Nothing has changed. It has been like this for the past several rounds, and will continue as long as both sides remain at loggerheads in parallel discussions on Hong Kong's political reforms. British team leader Anthony Galsworthy's remarks that it couldtake 22 years for the JLG to complete its work is a feeling of exasperation shared by many. However, Hong Kong does not have the luxury of 22 years to wait for the JLG to resolve the many outstanding issues on its agenda.

Some of them are pressing, such as the need for China to approve the franchises to operate the territory's ninth container terminal, CT-9. Others such as the localisation of laws and air services agreements which have to be in place by 1997 is a complex and time-consuming business. Still others are of a technical nature which need careful and detailed discussion. Legislator James To Kun-sun is right when he says that the JLG should be the forum for discussing practical arrangements related to the transition rather than a victim of the political row.

With only four years remaining in the transition, both sides should de-link the work of the JLG from the political reform issue and get on with the business of sorting out the myriad of international treaties and technical matters that Hong Kong needs to have in place by 1997. Many of the technical issues are complex and cannot be railroaded through at the last minute. They need to be worked out carefully if they are to serve Hong Kong well after 1997.

The 1991 summit meeting between Prime Minister Li Peng and his British counterpart John Major as well as last year's meeting between foreign ministers Douglas Hurd and Qian Qichen both promised to speed up the work of the JLG. So far there is no sign that this has been accomplished.

The JLG talks are supposed to be about resolving matters that will allow Hong Kong to continue the many arrangements after 1997 that it enjoys now. It should not be made a victim of the ongoing political talks. To borrow a phrase from the Governor: action speaks louder than words.