UK envoy defends Jardines delisting

THE Jardine Matheson Group's decision to delist from the stock market does not send a signal of no confidence to other British companies, says Francis Cornish, Britain's most senior diplomat in Hong Kong.

But Mr Cornish, senior trade commissioner in the territory, warned yesterday that if commercial decisions made in Hong Kong and China were not based on purely business terms, this would be a serious threat to the business environment.

He said it was crucial to secure business confidence in Hong Kong.

'If anything was to happen to cast doubt on that, it would be very serious indeed,' said Mr Cornish, who is tipped to become Britain's first consul-general to Hong Kong after 1997.

'In that context, suggestions from the Chinese side that non-commercial criteria are being introduced into decisions which should be wholly commercial are serious for Hong Kong and for business confidence here.

'If they do start to introduce other factors into these matters, it will make a difference in due course and that would not be in the interests of Hong Kong, China or anybody.' Mr Cornish said commercial autonomy was secured by the Chinese basic law 'and the business community is confident that trading conditions for doing business here will be preserved'.

Mr Cornish defended Jardines, saying: 'Jardines is not reducing its presence in Hong Kong and not reducing its presence in China.

'The extent of its operations in both places will be the same or bigger after its delisting takes effect at the end of this year.

'So it doesn't send any signal to other British companies . . . there are over 1,000 with a physical presence in Hong Kong.'