Angry Over Reforms, China Blasts Patten


IN a biting new blow to Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten, China said Wednesday it would move ahead with threats to set up a new administration after retaking the colony in 1997.

At a press conference televised live in China and Hong Kong, Lu Ping, China's top policymaker on Hong Kong, charged that Mr. Patten had "shut the door" on further talks by publishing his democratic reform proposals late last week.

Although Mr. Lu stopped short of saying China would establish a threatened shadow government to undermine British control before the turnover, his latest venomous attack fuels the uncertainty hanging over the colony since Patten first revealed his plan last October to make Hong Kong's government more representative.

Earlier, the Hong Kong official had repeatedly withheld publication of the plan, which formally begins the approval process in the colony's Legislative Council, in hopes of reopening negotiations with Beijing.

But that process stalled when China, enraged by Patten's proposal, refused to include any Hong Kong officials in negotiations over the colony. The move was intended to sideline the governor.

Patten has been under pressure from Hong Kong liberals to refuse another secret deal with Beijing. The turnover and other agreements have been struck between British and Chinese officials without any say from colony residents.

Patten's agenda includes broadening direct public participation in choosing the 60-seat legislature, now filled by appointments or indirect elections. Under the changes, 39 legislators, or more than double the representatives directly elected now, would be filled by Hong Kong residents.

China contends the reform plan violates the Basic Law, the legal blueprint drawn up by Britain and China for governing Hong Kong after it reverts to mainland control.

Charging that the Hong Kong governor has "no sincerity," Lu said, "In the history of Hong Kong, Chris Patten will become a man of guilt."

Reaching for an upbeat note following the press conference, Patten reiterated Britain's pledge to resume negotiations. Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that Britain still wanted to hold talks. "If the Chinese let us know what is wrong, we will start talks, but there should be no preconditions," he told Hong Kong reporters, saying he was "confident" of Hong Kong's continued prosperity and stability.

In the second attack by a senior Chinese official in a week, Lu said China would begin "setting up a new kitchen" in the colony, using a common Chinese phrase that refers to starting over from scratch. Previously, China had agreed to leave a legislature, due to be elected in 1995, in place until 1999 despite the transfer of authority.

"The purpose of a new kitchen is to maintain the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong," Lu said.

At the Monday opening of the Chinese National People's Congress, Premier Li Peng denounced Patten's proposals and charged that Britain would be responsible for the consequences of attempting to create disorder in Hong Kong.

The Hang Seng index, Hong Kong's stock gauge, which has gyrated wildly on each twist of the political dispute, was relatively calm, however, and closed down less than 1 percent. Analysts said brokers were relieved by China's insistence that it will not take steps to retake Hong Kong earlier than 1997.

Lu also cautioned the United States to keep out of the dispute and not tie the issue to renewal of China's most-favored-nation trading status slated for action in June. "No third country has the right to meddle in Hong Kong affairs," he said, although he noted that US companies have $7 billion invested in the colony.

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