Talks With China on Hong Kong Falter Over Interim Rule, Britain's Hurd Says

BRITISH Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said early in his April 2-9 visit to China and Hong Kong that talks with Beijing on the future of the British colony were not progressing well. Mr. Hurd told BBC radio that he hoped his visit to China would clarify agreements on handing back the colony to China in 1997.

"We have to try and make sense of the agreement of 1984, which says that in 1997 Hong Kong will go back to China." Hurd said.

Hurd, stopping in Hong Kong for consultation on the eve of his Beijing trip, said the British colony's transition would be paramount in his talks with Chinese leaders.

"Everything else is secondary," he told reporters at the colony's Kai Tak International Airport after flying in from London. "And I want to get right to the heart of the matter, which is whether we're in for a phase of cooperation or a phase of stalemate."

The foreign secretary, who will be the most senior British official to visit China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, is expected to argue that Beijing will improve its relations with the West by adopting a sympathetic approach to Hong Kong.

Hurd said he would attempt to quell a dispute with China over Hong Kong's plans to spend $16.3 billion on a new airport and port development, but cautioned the colony not to expect a breakthrough.

China is worried the plan, expected to be completed after 1997, would deplete Hong Kong's financial reserves and has demanded control over the project. The issue has evolved into a political watershed for determining who will govern Hong Kong from now until 1997.

"Cooperation means consultation, particularly on those things that spill over beyond 1997," Hurd said. "But consultation with China does not mean control by China."

Hurd arrived in Beijing April 3 and will meet his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, and probably Premier Li Peng.

Hurd said last week that anxiety in Hong Kong over human rights and Chinese suspicion that the colony had become a base for subversion were the main problems.

Hong Kong leaders are expected to tell Hurd that a senior political figure should be appointed to oversee the colony in the years leading up to Chinese rule.

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