Zhao visits Britain to cement relations

Britain's clinching of an agreement to turn Hong Kong over to China is reaping its inevitable rewards. Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, the most senior Chinese leader to visit the country in six years, is on a week-long visit to Britain.

The alacrity with which the Chinese premier's visit has taken place -- he was invited only last December -- is an indication of China's approval of the Hong Kong transfer negotiations.

Under this agreement Hong Kong, which is a British Crown colony, will revert to Chinese control in 12 years. In deference to the entrepreneurial spirit, capitalism will be allowed to flourish for 50 years beyond the 1997 handover.

The visit of the Chinese leader has thus a highly symbolic content, and is viewed here primarily as cementing relations between China and Britain. The goodwill will be reciprocated, probably toward the end of next year when Queen Elizabeth II will pay her first visit to China.

British diplomats are hoping that the good relationship will assure the smooth operation of all machinery set up under the Hong Kong agreement. This includes not only the liaison group but also the land commission which must deal with the complexities of land ownership so that no difficult anomalies persist after 1997. The feeling is that unless good political relations prevail these details are not going to work out.

The British are counting on the Hong Kong agreement to provide a solid base for expanded trade.

While in Britain Mr. Zhao signed an 150 million ($190 million) order with British Aerospace for 10 airliners.

China itself has given encouraging signals that it would like to see Britain take a larger proportion of its total trade. At the moment Britain represents only 1 percent of China's foreign trade.

Zhao's visit ends June 8.

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