Setback for reform

LU Ping these days shows few signs of the pragmatism which in the past led Hong Kong Government officials to say he was a good man with whom to do business.

Despite the evidence of China's antipathy to the Governor and all his works, the administration thinks Chris Patten might make headway in breaking the log-jam of Joint Liaison Group business. If he could discuss defence lands, airport financing and through-train arrangements for the civil service with the Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Mr Patten might make progress where others have failed.

Perhaps Mr Lu still is the political ''Mr Fixit'' Hong Kong negotiators found so workman-like in the days before Sino-British relations were soured. But his track record in recent times suggests his reputation for flexibility is overdone.

Suggestions that the two men could develop some kind of relationship are wishful thinking. But there would be no harm in trying to establish a modus vivendi, provided China were prepared to treat Mr Patten with the respect Hong Kong gives Mr Lu.

China, unfortunately, has made it plain Mr Lu has no plans to meet Mr Patten on his visit to the territory next week. He will attend the ceremony marking the Bank of China's debut as a local note-issuing bank and give a speech to the chambers of commerce. But he has chosen to snub the territory's most important public figure.

That is an opportunity lost as well as an insult. Mr Patten, far more than his recent predecessors, decides the policies which affect Hong Kong. If Chinese officials genuinely wished to separate politics from economics, they would find time in Mr Lu's eight-day visit for a meeting and not play games with protocol. The territory has too much at stake for Mr Lu to ignore the Governor, however much he dislikes Mr Patten's politics.