Hong Kong wants transfer to be under British scrutiny

Hong Kong wants Britain to keep a close eye on China's attitude toward the territory in the next 12 years. This was one of the main messages conveyed to the British government by a group of 11 leading Hong Kong citizens Wednesday, just before the House of Commons debated the future of the colony.

The Hong Kong agreement, which will end British sovereignty in 1997, has already been initialed by London and Peking. It still has to be fully ratified by the British Parliament, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher plans to fly to Peking Dec. 18 to sign the enabling documents.

Already, however, the spotlight has moved to the 12-year transition period agreed to by London and Peking and to ways of ensuring that China holds to the terms of the agreement.

The Hong Kong community leaders who came to London would like the British Parliament to debate implementation of the transition arrangements every year until sovereignty reverts to China. It is one of the ideas Mrs. Thatcher will take to the Chinese capital.

The Hong Kong delegation was led by Sir Sy Chung and included members of the colony's Executive Council and Legislative Council nominated by the British governor.

They brought with them a list of worries, including:

* Concern that China may wish to vary the terms of the London-Peking agreement;

* Uncertainties about the citizenship status of Hong Kong residents after 1997;

* Concern about the implications of China's present intention to station its own troops in the territory after Britain finally hands over sovereignty.

Earlier, British officials in Hong Kong carried out an opinion survey among Hong Kong residents. It showed that 77 percent of those polled believe the agreement is ''not very good,'' but ''the best possible'' under the circumstances.

Many residents think that Britain is trusting blindly in China's future good intentions and fear that future Peking regimes may take a less generous view of how Hong Kong should be administered.

The London-Peking agreement that Thatcher is to sign guarantees that Hong Kong's existing economic and social systems will be permitted to continue for 50 years after 1997.

From next September there will be indirect elections to the Hong Kong Legislative Council - beginning what is hoped will be a rapid transition to representative government by the time sovereignty transfers to China.

A complicating factor in future calculations will likely be the ''basic law'' China has pledged to enact. This would provide Hong Kong with a constitution after 1997.

The document will replace the letters patent and royal instructions of the colonial system and will be passed by the National People's Congress in Peking.

Hong Kong officials want to play a part in drafting the basic law - an idea China does not like. Probably there will be consultation on the new constitution between British and Chinese diplomats appointed to a special ''liaison group.''

Hong Kong community leaders are concerned that China has so far not approved attempts to democratize the government of the territory.

This has led them to press Thatcher to ask Parliament at Westminster to monitor the transition period. Many members of Parliment, while broadly in favor of the London-Peking agreement, believe that a parliamentary ''watchdog'' role will be necessary.

They consider that, at lest until the basic law is passed, the House of Commons should stage a debate every year to ensure that the Chinese government appreciates that its goodwill will not be taken wholly on trust, but will remain subject to regular scrutiny.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.