AS foreign ministers Qian Qichen and Douglas Hurd walked out of their meeting in New York it looked as if the Sino-British negotiations had returned to 1983: the Chinese are threatening to take over Hong Kong unilaterally and the British are extremely frustrated. What happened to the 1984 agreement? It is not time to renegotiate, it is time to bring about the promise of 1984. In New York, Mr Qian emphasised that the main concern is for the transition to go smoothly. Yet it is reported that China has made no concessions on the political blueprint. Meanwhile, the United Democrats have insisted that the British Government upholdthe Joint Declaration and that the British not surrender any more than Chris Patten already has. They insist the conservative Patten proposal affords only the minimal level of democracy. Anything less would violate the Joint Declaration and ensure an ignominious British departure from Hong Kong. As the crisis over Hong Kong's future unfolds it is time for China to do some soul searching. Has she been well advised in the past? What will lead to a smooth transition? The Joint Declaration is the track for any through-train. It outlines a form of constitutional government. What are its elements and what does it mean to us today as we contemplate our immediate future? Does it mean that we bar half the population of Hong Kong from participating fully in the political process? Given the wide support for leading liberal politicians, can a smooth transition be achieved if we vitiate the choice of a majority of Hong Kong voters? If leading liberals are thrown out of the legislature where are they going to take their cause - to the streets? Does it mean we undermine our educational system? Some members of the Preliminary Working Group (PWG) are reported to have suggested replacing the British system with a mainland one. Can Hong Kong maintain the kind of society envisioned in the Joint Declaration if our educators are no longer free and independent, as required in the Joint Declaration? Does it mean undermining our media? The media, along with the educational system, are the chief target of those who would silence opposition in Hong Kong. Whether it be from the blacklisting newspapers, or simply the power of official money, or the arrest and harassment of Hong Kong journalists in China, a chill breeze is already blowing through the Hong Kong media. Does it mean undermining our legal system? The legal sub-group of the PWG has threatened a wholesale review of all Hong Kong laws and setting aside the Bill of Rights. On the other hand the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) cannot bring itself to complete its review of the myriad of British laws and agreements that need localising. Meanwhile, the Court of Final Appeal is held hostage to a Sino-British deal that exceeds the Joint Declaration. So, too, are enormous public works being delayed. Can anyone believe that these matters could not be resolved within hours if there were any will to do so. Does it mean diminishing Hong Kong's international status? Under the Joint Declaration, is the security of China's commitments to Hong Kong truly only an internal affair? Both parties seemed to want more when the deal was struck. Liberal Party leader Allen Lee in a recent commentary likened Hong Kong people to ''children in a custody battle'' waiting while their parents negotiate. Is this the role that the Joint Declaration outlined for Hong Kong when it promised a ''high degree of autonomy'' and ''Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong''? Let's be serious - one of the most successful communities in the world can hardly afford to be populated only by children. What should China's advisers do? Should they secure their own ground? Should they encourage China to take over early? Let's hope more level heads prevail. Can anyone honesty believe this situation reflects adherence to the Joint Declaration? If it does not then the parties have an obligation to ensure we get back on track. Michael Davis is a law lecturer at Chinese University.