China Halts Hong Kong Talks With Britain After Impasse

CHINA has closed the door on further negotiations with Britain over the political future of Hong Kong.

Retaliating against Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten's introduction of a political reform program earlier this month, China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office announced Dec. 27 that the elected Legislative Council and other tiers of government will be disbanded when the colony returns to Chinese control in 1997, according to a report by the New China News Agency.

Beijing's move confirms Chinese warnings that it would abolish the Council if Britain pushed ahead with political reforms, and signals the end of collaboration between Britain and China over ensuring Hong Kong's smooth transition to Chinese rule.

The announcement suggests the possibility of political confrontation between Beijing and democratic reformers in the colony and throws an air of uncertainty over the freewheeling market economy.

``This is an inevitable outcome of China's recovery of its sovereignty over Hong Kong and of Britain's termination of its rule over Hong Kong,'' a spokesman was quoted as saying.

The year-long dispute between Britain and China over Mr. Patten's plan for limited democratic reforms came to a head after the governor introduced some measures in the legislature earlier this month. They included lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, abolishing appointed seats for the municipal councils and district boards, and implementing a single-vote, single-seat voting system.

The governor's announcement in October 1992 that he would seek to broaden political participation before the colony reverts to China enraged Beijing and triggered bitter denunciations against Britain's last colonial governor.

The two sides began talks on the issue last April, although 17 rounds of negotiations produced no progress. A major point of contention was Britain's insistence that China allow the members of the Council as well as district board members and municipal council members to retain their seats for four years after legislative elections to be held in 1994-95.

Patten's decision to push ahead with introducing some of his plan to the legislature for consideration grew out of frustration over the continued stalemate with Beijing.

China has now ruled out holding further talks with Britain on arrangements for the legislative elections. ``It is a pity that no agreement has been reached due to deliberate sabotage by the British side,'' a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said in Hong Kong.

The Chinese official said all laws governing the terms of the elected legislators would be abolished on July 1, 1997, when China regains control.

China said it would reorganize the existing three-tiered structure of Legislative Council, district boards, and municipal councils, although no details were given.

The Hong Kong government says it is ready to hold further talks with China, noting, ``Both the British and Chinese governments have pledged to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.'' A government spokesman told reporters that news report about China's decision contradicted China's pledge to cooperate with the British government.

``The approach outlined in the [Chinese] statement does not seem to be consistent with this very important pledge,'' the government spokesman said.

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