AIRPORT talks suffered another setback yesterday, with China's top official in charge of Hong Kong affairs rejecting a British call to back two airport financial support agreements in exchange for capping the level of debt. Lu Ping accused Britain of ''setting conditions'' by seeking China's agreement to two financial arrangements for the Provisional Airport Authority (PAA) and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) before accepting its demand to cap debt at $23 billion. The Director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) likened the airport financing row to a market bargaining session. ''The situation is just as if we have both agreed beforehand that one kilogram of tomatoes should cost $5. But then when I come to purchase them, you say it is not all right and force me to buy five kilograms of cucumbers as well,'' Mr Lu said. China wanted a general agreement on capping debt before tackling the issue of the two support agreements because these were complicated issues, he said. But a government spokesman rejected Mr Lu's claims that Britain was creating new problems which were blocking an agreement. ''To follow Mr Lu's analogy, we simply want to enable the deal on the tomatoes to go through; it is all about tomatoes,'' he said. In June, Beijing agreed to the Government's latest financial package on Chek Lap Kok. Under the plan, the equity injection would be $60.3 billion and the loan amount would not exceed $23 billion. But Mr Lu said last week that agreement could not be reached because of Britain's refusal to cap the level of borrowing of the PAA and MTRC. On Thursday, Acting Governor Anson Chan Fang On-sang said it was important for China to agree to the financial support agreements for the two companies so they could go ahead in raising funds from the private sector. ''The borrowing level of $23 billion was proposed by the British side in the fourth financial package, but now they have said they will only agree to that if we support the two so-called financial support agreements. Aren't they complicating the issue?'' Mr Lu said. However, a Hong Kong Government spokesman said last night: ''As both sides are well aware, the financial support agreements for the airport and airport railway have always been an essential part of a financing agreement for the two projects. Copies of the draft documents have been with the Chinese side for many months. So any suggestion that we are introducing new issues into the negotiations is not correct. ''In addition, it should be noted that the contents of the financial support agreements are fully in line with the basic agreement reached with the Chinese side on the $60.3 billion in equity and the $23-billion debt. That underlines the point that we are proposing nothing new.'' But Zhang Liangdong, head of the HKMAO economic department, said Britain was ''putting the cart before the horse''. ''If the main agreement has not yet been settled, how can we be expected to support the subsidiary documents?'' he asked. In Hong Kong, Airport Consultative Committee member Ho King-on said the British were playing a delaying game. ''The British side now has plenty of time, because work on the airport projects is going well after the Legislative Council approved $15 billion for the project last month. ''Beijing is rather impatient about the talks now; Mr Lu looked angry on television,'' he said. United Democrats legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip described the row over the airport as ''meaningless and irrational''. ''Their arguments are merely emotional. The financial package explicitly stated the equity and debt ratio of the whole airport project; whether or not the amount of debt raised is capped is meaningless,'' he said.