Li urges speed for SAR panel

Linda Choy

CHINESE Premier Li Peng has called for a speeding up of progress in the working panel for the Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government in the light of the deadlock over the Sino-British talks.

In a remark made prior to a crucial British cabinet meeting, the Chinese leader has also accused the British side of violating past agreements.

Mr Li said in an interview with the local Wide Angle monthly magazine that Britain alone should be blamed if the talks on the 1994/95 electoral arrangements for Hong Kong failed.

''We hope agreement can be reached through the negotiations,'' he said. ''But if the talks fail, the responsibility is not on the Chinese side.'' He renewed the accusations that Britain had breached the agreements on the handover, saying ''in dealing with Britain, there is a need to think more [and] to ask more questions''.

In Hong Kong, the Governor, Chris Patten, indicated that the British Prime Minister, John Major, would review with ministers ''how much longer we can go on talking'' in the forthcoming cabinet meeting which he would attend.

In an interview with Wharf Cable, aired last night, Mr Patten was asked what the Government would do if the talks failed and he said: ''We have, of course, considered the prospects of failure.

''The Prime Minister, and his colleagues, will then have to make a decision about how to take things forward and how to establish the broadest base of support in the community for whatever we think is right.'' Commenting on the preparation work for forming the post-1997 government, Mr Li said it was originally planned that the SAR Preparatory Committee would be set up in 1996.

''But in view of the present situation, the timing . . . will have to be brought forward and the preparation work will have to be speeded up and there is only one single objective in doing so, that is, to facilitate a smooth transition and maintain the prosperity of Hong Kong,'' Mr Li said.

His advice was likely to be addressed in the meetings of the political and economic sub-groups of the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC), at their second talks in Beijing this week.

The Hong Kong co-convenor of the political sub-group Leung Chun-ying, had said earlier that the group would discuss the formation of the first SAR legislature in its meeting tomorrow and Thursday.

But PWC member, Professor Lau Siu-kai of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, cautioned that the discussion of the first legislature would deal a further blow to the confidence of Hong Kong people.

He also doubted whether the PWC should go into the discussion of specific details at this stage.

''There are more important issues to consider even if the talks failed, say, what implications it has on the Basic Law?'' Professor Lau said.

It was the PWC role to make suggestions to preserve stability once the talks collapsed, he said.

Another PWC member, Raymond Wu Wai-yung, also said the discussion in the coming meeting should not be too specific in order to prevent giving the impression that the talks had failed.