MR Patten gambled heavily yesterday in announcing his timetable for legislating to introduce the ''simple'' elements of his electoral reform plan. He wagered carefully and thoughtfully but inevitably with high risk. The danger was, and is, that he would provoke such anger from China that all progress on the transition to Chinese rule would be frozen. He gambled, that is, with the future of Hong Kong. China's initial reaction was indeed angry. But it was not definitive. There was a certain moderation of expression in China's counter-attack that leaves unlocked the gate to further talks, on economic and/or political issues. Yesterday's announcement seems not to have been, for China, the point of no return in the Governor's behaviour. That would be the tabling of the electoral bill in the Legislative Council next week. Britain and China yesterday continued to blame each other for the impasse over electoral reform. It is clear, however, that there is such a gap in understanding and goodwill between both sides that each must accept blame for the failure to bridge it. Thechasm between the sides has been formed by both culture and political practicalities. Nothing in Chinese history helps China understand a pluralistic, democratic society. Nothing in the nature of the Communist Party makes them want to understand it. Nor is there much in the historical relationship between Britain and China that makes one want to understand the other. So even the ''simple'' electoral reforms - lowering the voting age, abolishing appointed seats and the single-seat, single-vote polling system - are matters of disagreement. Enter the political practicalities. Both sides understand enough about voting to know that the nature of a voting system has a big impact on the results it produces. Put the two factors together and agreement becomes very difficult. So Mr Patten's announcement is not so much right or wrong as inevitable (given that he is committed to some measure of reform). The alternative would be to scrap his reforms. China and many leaders of Hong Kong business groups would see this as desirable. But such a view is unrealistic. Mr Patten is no more likely to junk his own plan than China is to embrace it. The appropriate action, therefore, was to put the ''simple'' elements before Legco, as the only (if imperfect) representation of community opinion. Let Legco decide on them. And leave the door open to more talks on the issues affecting Legco's future composition. The action, however, remains a gamble - that China will continue to see that its self-interest (and the best interests of Hong Kong) lie in continuing talks on the territory's return to its sovereignty. All wagers are risky and the poor relationship between the two countries make this one particularly so. But China's measured early response suggests the bet might not yet be lost.