ON Wednesday evening, Governor Chris Patten conceded on television what he earlier neglected to tell the members of the Legislative Council: that China's objective in the current Sino-British negotiations is to restrict the number of Legco members who are elected through genuine and open elections. If Mr Patten has accurately represented the Chinese negotiating position, then any agreement Britain could reach by caving in to Beijing will surely crush the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong people. In his second Policy Speech, Mr Patten had already confirmed what has long been speculated in Hong Kong: that the British Government made a significant retreat from the electoral reform proposals he presented in Legco one full year ago. And although manyof the concessions at the negotiating table by the British Government are still shrouded in secrecy, Mr Patten did tell us the substance of the British capitulation which gutted his original functional constituency reforms. The United Democrats have always maintained that the functional constituencies are a wholly undemocratic way to choose members of the Legislative Council. It is important to remember that the functional constituencies have always been only a transitory step, on the way to full democracy. It has long been questionable whether the functional constituency system could survive a challenge under the Bill of Rights. The fundamental inequality is that some functional constituencies have only a few hundred - or even a few dozen - voters while geographical constituencies have several hundred thousand. One of Patten's major goals in his original bill was to make the rotten boroughs of the functional constitu encies less rotten and more democratic. He planned to enfranchise Hong Kong's entire working population of 2.7 million. One year later, Mr Patten seems to have come around to Beijing's way of seeing things and it is unclear which - if any - of Patten's original proposals will survive the Sino-British bargaining process. The Governor revealed that Britain has offered to slash the number of voters in the functional constituencies to one third of 2.7 million, or only 900,000 voters. The fact that Britain remains at the negotiating table can only mean one thing: further concessions are in the works. As Mr Patten reiterated in his policy speech, he formed his proposals only after wide consultation with the Hong Kong community. Moreover, the Legislative Council voted its support for the original reforms on three separate occasions. And contrary to what Mr Patten stated, his reforms are no longer just proposals - they were approved by the full Executive Council and were gazetted as a bill last March. Thus we were very surprised that the British Government saw fit to make such a dramatic capitulation without consulting the Hong Kong people or the Legislative Council. Meanwhile there is every indication that the massive concessions on the functional constituencies and the election committee have done nothing to bridge the chasm between the two sides. At best, Mr Patten and the British Government have betrayed their contempt for the fundamentals of democracy and the wishes of the people of Hong Kong to select their own representatives. At worst, the concession on functional constituencies may promote electoral abuse, manipulation and even fraud - which has not been unknown to the smallest constituencies. The people of Hong Kong can take little comfort from the knowledge that the only reason there has not yet been a British sell-out is not due to an unwillingness on the part of Britain to kowtow, but because Beijing believes Britain will make still further and further concessions. In sum, the British Government's concessions constitute a major retreat, both in detail and in principle. I can speak only for the United Democrats, but certainly other democratically elected members of Legco would have great difficulty supporting such arestriction. Given what we now know about Beijing's negotiating position and the British Government's propensity for appeasement, it is imperative that Britain make no more concessions before conferring with the Legislative Council. The flaws of the proposed concessions severely threaten the legitimacy of all electoral arrangements and would most certainly affect public confidence in our entire system of government. Martin Lee is chairman of the United Democrats of Hong Kong and an elected Legislative Councillor.