HONG KONG — Gov. Chris Patten announced Friday that his government is pushing forward with plans for democratic reforms despite fierce opposition from Beijing, which resumes sovereignty over this British colony in 1997.
The escalating confrontation over Hong Kong's political future provoked a sharp late-afternoon fall on the Hong Kong stock market. China has immense leverage over Hong Kong's economy. It is capable of frightening investors simply by making threats about future policies, which it has done previously during high points of Sino-British tension.
Patten said his government is moving forward with publication of a controversial constitutional reform package, after weeks of delays, because attempts to open negotiations with China on the proposals had failed.
"We wished to go the extra mile and give the Chinese side every opportunity to respond," Patten told Legislative Council members Friday afternoon. "Unfortunately, the outstanding differences have not been resolved and we still have no date for talks."
Patten expressed hope that Beijing still might agree to discuss the proposed reforms, which would widen voter participation in the 1995 legislative elections.
But Zheng Guoxiong, vice director of the New China News Agency office in Hong Kong, which functions as a de facto embassy, declared that Patten's announcement "means no talks would go on."
"It shows the British side is completely insincere," Zheng said.
Zheng was paraphrased in a report by the official Chinese news agency, monitored in Beijing, as demanding that "the British side should abandon Patten's package" as a precondition for Sino-British cooperation over Hong Kong. He also said that talks could only be between representatives of London and Beijing, without representatives of the Hong Kong government taking part.
China takes the position that Patten's proposals contradict the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that will govern Hong Kong after the colony returns to Chinese sovereignty in four years. Beijing has previously declared that if the 1995 Legislative Council elections do not conform with the Basic Law, members will not be allowed to remain in office after July 1, 1997, when the changeover occurs.
The Hong Kong government insists that its proposals conform with the Basic Law.
Publication of the proposals is the first step before they can be considered by the Legislative Council for approval.
Special correspondent Courtney reported from Hong Kong. Times staff writer Holley reported from Beijing.