THE Government's new-found reluctance to conduct a high-profile campaign in the United States for the renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status seems misplaced. It is only six months since the Governor's highly successful visit to Washington. Even that most uncompromising critic of China's human rights record, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, admitted he had made a difference to the way American politicians viewed the MFN debate. Politics may have changed in Hong Kong over the past six months, in a way that makes it important for the Government to take China's sensitivities into account before talking about democracy in Washington. But it is hard to see what has changed in the United States to make less appropriate a strategy of stressing the damage MFN suspension would do to Hong Kong. On the contrary, the Clinton administration's more careful approach to relations with China would suggest another visit would be welcome. To recommend Hong Kong keep a low profile for fear of being seen as an apologist for China - as the Government did ina working paper prepared for a Trade and Industry Panel meeting - seems to be throwing away the benefits of the Governor's visit. The previous approach did have dangers. Chris Patten in his speeches at times sailed close to playing down the human rights issue. What little coverage he received in the American press appeared to suggest he was lobbying for China rather than Hong Kong. But that simply means a more tactful, rather than a lower profile, campaign is necessary. Mr Patten's public support earlier this year for renewal of China's MFN status was effective and failure to deliver that backing again next year would add to the risk that MFN might be suspended. The reason for giving that support - that Hong Kong relies heavily on the trade links between China and third countries - has not changed. Hong Kong should be ready to criticise China's human rights record. But it also should argue that MFN is the West's best lever in dealing with China - and that the aim of Western policy should be to keep China open to the world, not to isolate it. Suspension will make life worse, not better, for China's dissidents, and ultimately could place the territory's civil rights and democratic development at risk. The same considerations, however, show the absurdity of the Government's suggestion, in the paper, that Hong Kong should try to encourage more positive reporting of China in the US media. That betrays a basic misreading of how the US media work. If the Government thinks it is bad to be misunderstood as an apologist for China, is it not worse to be caught lobbying on China's behalf? It would harm the territory's credibility and guarantee media hostility. What the Government has got right is that the best way to get Hong Kong's message across is to co-ordinate its efforts with those of the American Chamber of Commerce. Washington must be informed as much of the damage suspension of MFN would cause to US interests as to those of Hong Kong.