Patten backs MFN status for China

GOVERNOR Chris Patten yesterday urged US President Bill Clinton not to revoke China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status because it would badly affect Hong Kong.

''Such a blow would come at the worst possible time for Hong Kong. We are now in the final three years of the transition from British to Chinese sovereignty,'' Mr Patten told the American Chamber of Commerce.

As he spoke, a powerful Hong Kong business lobbying delegation headed home from Washington confident that Mr Clinton would find a way to renew MFN.

Paul Cheng, chairman of General Chamber of Commerce, said he was ''cautiously optimistic'' about a favourable result.

The crucial factor this year could be the increased role played by US business in China in building up a massive lobbying campaign to persuade the administration not to revoke the trading privilege, he said.

Following his discussions with key members of the Clinton administration and US Congress, Mr Cheng felt it was likely Mr Clinton would have to extend MFN with conditions for another year before the issue of de-linking trade from human rights could be addressed.

Mr Patten said he doubted denying China MFN status would lead to human rights improvement.

Citing experiences in Shanghai and Guangzhou, the Governor said he believed a prosperous economy would boost social and political progress.

''It is undoubtedly the case that people living in the areas of greatest economic progress are seeing the quality of their lives improve in more than the purely material sense,'' he said.

It would be the ''ordinary Chinese people'' who would suffer most if Beijing was not given MFN.

''The people who are performing the Chinese economic miracle are above all the ordinary people, the entrepreneurs, the small businesses, the enterprising investors,'' he said.

''It is they who need encouraging - not knocking on the head.''