Jardines can tender for CT9, says Lu

Linda Choy

CHINA will allow Jardines to take part in Container Terminal 9 if it wins an open tender for the project, Beijing's leading spokesman on Hong Kong affairs said last night.

In an apparent softening of Beijing's stance towards the company, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief, Lu Ping, said a fresh tender was all that was needed for the project to go ahead.

His comments appeared to contradict previous suggestions that China might force Jardines to withdraw before CT9 could proceed.

Instead, Mr Lu said the only obstacle to resolving the issue was the Government's use of non-financial factors in their choice of the successful consortia.

'The problem is that the franchise was not granted only on economic merits [of Jardines],' he said.

'If they claim that the whole process was open and fair, I suggest they assess it by opening tendering.

'If Jardines still wins the franchise, then give it to them,' Mr Lu added.

Jardines is the lead partner in Tsing Yi Container Terminal Consortium, one of three consortia awarded the right to manage CT9. The others are existing terminal operators: Modern Terminals Ltd and Hong Kong International Terminals.

Fears that Jardines might be forced to withdraw from the project on political grounds arose last month after a series of harshly-critical comments from mainland sources.

One Beijing-backed news agency blasted the company for supporting Governor Chris Patten's political reforms and for lacking commitment to the territory - citing its decision to delist from the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong.

Mr Lu also joined the criticism of tomorrow's use of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre to celebrate Taiwan's National Day, calling it a challenge to Beijing by Britain.

'Why was it approved just before the announcement of the policy address?,' he said. 'Britain has to bear all the possible outcomes of its move. It should not blame China for not co-operating in the future.' Meanwhile, also in Beijing, an authoritative mainland source launched China's first major attack on Mr Patten's policy address.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said the Governor's speech was full of 'beautiful words' but failed to offer any concrete action to improve Sino-British relations.

The Governor proposed that Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) members could have contacts with Hong Kong civil servants through sitting on Joint Liaison Group expert meetings.

But the source dismissed Mr Patten's 'meaningless' olive branch and said it would not work.

The source said the Governor's speech showed he had not changed his confrontational attitude towards China.