HONG KONG — Expectations of renewed Sino-British talks on Hong Kong's future boosted the stock market here Friday but provoked concern among liberal legislators who fear London may cave in to Chinese pressure.
The blue-chip Hang Seng index surged 148.11 points to close at 6,351.99.
The gain followed the colonial government's decision to delay Friday's planned publication of Gov. Chris Patten's controversial democratic reform proposals; the proposals must be published as a first step before the colony's Legislative Council can start its deliberations on them.
While traders in Hong Kong took the postponement as a sign that Sino-British negotiations may begin soon on Patten's plans, the colony's pro-democracy lawmakers are demanding an explanation why the government--which had said it intended to publish by the end of February--missed its deadline.
"We are mystified because they delayed publishing the (Patten proposals) without giving a good reason," said independent liberal legislator Emily Lau. "This only heightens anxiety over and suspicion of a secret deal between Britain and China."
Lau said that, if talks went ahead between Britain and China, it could lead to agreements considered unacceptable to Hong Kong.
On Wednesday, Michael Sze, Hong Kong's secretary for constitutional affairs, told the Legislative Council, "Were we to go beyond (the government's self-imposed deadline), there would have to be a very good reason for doing so."
Although the government gave no reason for delaying publication of the proposals, it suggested that Sino-British talks on the matter were imminent, despite Beijing's previous rejection of the plan.
"The assumption is, if we published the bill . . . there would be no possibility of talks with the Chinese side," Sze said in a Friday interview. "We feel that, given the importance of the context, it would be prudent for us to give the process a few more days."
Under Patten's plan, Hong Kong would have a greater measure of representative government by electing a majority of the Legislative Council in the 1995 election. Legislators elected that year would remain on the council through Hong Kong's transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997 and up to 1999.
But the Chinese interpret this concept as giving them a veto over the council's composition and fear that greater democracy would block a smooth transition in 1997, in accord with principles laid down in a 1984 Sino-British pact.
China reiterated Friday that it will not be pressured into changing its position on Patten's proposals.