What Deal?

London and Beijing bicker over how democratic Hong Kong should be

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HONG KONG'S GOVERNOR, CHRIS PATTEN, HAS learned that he does not have to go to China to be snubbed. A week after his chilly sojourn in Beijing, Patten was stood up by a retired Chinese official who abruptly bowed out of a long- standing luncheon appointment at Government House. Meanwhile, pro-Beijing newspapers in the colony kept up their fusillade of ad hominem attacks on Patten, joined even by moderate members of Hong Kong's skittish business community.

The latest spat concerns Beijing's insistence that Patten's proposals to give Hong Kong people a greater voice in choosing their legislators contravene "secret" agreements with Britain on Hong Kong's political shape both before and after 1997. Patten retaliated by releasing the diplomatic traffic that China claimed proved its point. A letter from Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd did refer to an "agreement in principle" about electoral arrangements. But it also mentioned a number of "details" that had to be worked out. Because those negotiations failed, Britain says there was no such deal. Agreed the Hong Kong Standard in a front-page editorial: "There are very few people who would argue that ((there was a deal)), and most of them are in Beijing." Unfortunately for Hong Kong, Mao's successors believe firmly in minority rule.