Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain Aims to Reassert Hong Kong Role Vis-a-Vis China

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Britain Aims to Reassert Hong Kong Role Vis-a-Vis China

Article excerpt

IN an effort to shore up the credibility of British rule over Hong Kong, Prime Minister John Major plans to indicate to China that Britain will resist China's bid to deepen its influence over the territory.

Mr. Major intends to suggest in a letter to Premier Li Peng that, without China's support, Britain could consider shelving a plan to build a massive airport and port complex in Hong Kong, a Hong Kong official says.

Ironically, the letter would passively confirm China's veto power over major decisions in Hong Kong. But it would show China that it cannot expect formal hands-on influence until it assumes sovereignty over the territory in 1997. The letter is expected to be presented by Robin McLaren, Britain's new ambassador to China.

The airport controversy tests China's pledge to allow the territory a high degree of autonomy after 1997, say diplomats and Hong Kong lawmakers.

For months China has withheld its support for the $12.9-billion airport complex, saying the project would drain Hong Kong's cash reserves. China's support is necessary to attract vital private funding for the plan.

Beijing is demanding a formal say in the construction of the airport and in other major decisions in Hong Kong. It also seeks guarantees that Britain will set aside at least half of the territory's $9 billion reserves for use by the post-1997 government. British officials have resisted China's demands in four sets of negotiations, all of which ended in a deadlock. They have also made public assurances that Britain will not grant China veto power over major decisions.

The inability of Britain to proceed with the project has further eroded the confidence of Hong Kong residents, who are emigrating at a rate of more than 1,000 each week, according to diplomats and local legislators.

Hong Kong unveiled the airport plan four months after the June 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in a bid to buoy public attitudes toward the future of the territory. …

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