Expecting good progress

IN the five difficult years since the Beijing massacre of June 4, 1989, Hong Kong has grown used to paralysis in the Joint Liaison Group (JLG). The ritual calls for progress, for a positive approach, for a separation of politics and economics have lifted spirits in advance of each plenary session, but been ignored or rejected when the two sides have finally met.

This time, however, there is reason to hope the ritual is less empty than in the past. The new leader of the Chinese side, Zhao Jihua, would clearly like to make a different impression from his predecessor Guo Fengmin. But it would be wrong to place too much faith in a change of personnel alone. Of greater significance is what was achieved in the final weeks of Mr Guo's tenure. Only if Beijing is prepared to allow the agreement on the airport financing package to signal a new era of co-operation will the arrival of Mr Zhao unblock the huge backlog of JLG business.

But if Mr Zhao is allowed to negotiate seriously and his British counterpart Hugh Davies approaches the process in similar spirit, there is much that can and must be achieved. The Chinese are expected to give a positive response to a proposal to improve the operation of the JLG. But it remains to be seen whether British hopes for agreement on individual items are realistic. China has its own complaints to raise with Britain, not least the decision to introduce a code of practice for government departments to improve public access to information. After such prolonged inactivity, it will take time for the JLG to put its creaking joints back in motion. But, for Hong Kong's sake, it must get the motions underway.