China, Hong Kong show secret papers in dispute over elections


HONG KONG -- Britain and China yesterday made public the texts of secret diplomatic exchanges on the subject of Hong Kong elections, each side trying to prove it was in the right in a bitter dispute over political changes in this British colony before it reverts to China in 1997.

Beijing asserted that the documents showed that a confidential deal had been reached on key elements in the next legislative election in Hong Kong in 1995.

But Hong Kong's governor, Christopher Patten, who has proposed a series of changes to broaden the voter base of the 1995 elections, said the 50-page exchange proved just the opposite -- that no deal had been made.

The exchange was first mentioned publicly Friday by a Chinese official who, in the course of a stinging attack on Mr. Patten's plans, asserted that there were documents to show that Britain had secretly agreed to model Hong Kong's last colonial elections on China's restrictive post-1997 electoral blueprint for Hong Kong.

"In view of the allegations that were made, there was no choice but for me to make these documents public because I don't want anybody in Hong Kong to think that deals are being done behind their back," Mr. Patten told reporters.

A top aide to the governor said Britain had informed Beijing that the documents would be released, and Beijing responded by publishing the same exchanges.

The letters were exchanged in 1990, before China and Britain had completed the Basic Law, the blueprint for governing Hong Kong after it reverts to Chinese control.

China's 1997 blueprint outlines an Election Committee to be made up of 800 prominent people appointed by Beijing, a Hong Kong government official said.

The letters show that at one point, while pressing for more directly elected seats in both legislatures, the British foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, agreed in principle that the Electoral Committee in 1995 would conform to the 1997 model.

But Britain had put forward five principles for fair elections, and Mr. Hurd pressed China to agree to those as well and enshrine them in the Basic Law.

"In the end, the negotiations broke off because China wouldn't agree to more directly elected seats, and the Basic Law was published without our five principles," said a senior government official. "There's no agreement here."

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