British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher failed to clarify important questions still hovering over the future of Hong Kong in a press conference today that ended a 22-hour stopover in the British colony.
Thatcher offered no new information from her visit to Peking, where she signed a pact with China guaranteeing the preservation of Hong Kong's civil and commercial freedoms for 50 years after the colony's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Thatcher said that "the agreement is regarded as a good one by the overwhelming majority of the people of Hong Kong."
But she confirmed fears among the 5.5 million Chinese living here that they will not have direct representation in the drafting of the "basic law" that is to spell out Hong Kong's status as a "special autonomous region" of China as part of its constitution by 1990.
"The Chinese government gave an assurance while we were in Peking that they would also solicit the views of the people of Hong Kong on a wide basis," she said. "They of course will be responsible for the actual drafting."
Observers here have expressed concern that Hong Kong residents would have no direct representation in the drafting of the new basic law, repeating the experience of the past two years' Sino-British negotiations that led to the agreement signed this week.
Thatcher did say that Hong Kong's appointed governor, Edward Youde, would sit on the new joint liaison group to be formed next year to supervise the transition period until 2000. But Youde stepped in to correct her, saying that membership in the group was still undecided.
In response to another question, Thatcher said that she had not asked Chinese leaders whether they intended to draft Hong Kong citizens into China's People's Liberation Army after 1997.
But, when reporters questioned the merits of the agreement, Thatcher responded by suggesting that the only alternative would have been a 1997 Chinese takeover without any agreement.
"What do you think would have happened if we had not attempted to get an agreement?" she asked one reporter, and then answered her own question by saying that "92 percent of the territory would have automatically returned to China without any assurances, without any of the advantages of the agreement that we have now."
Last night, in a speech to the colony's legislative and executive bodies, Thatcher took note of the continuing worries of Hong Kong residents in slightly more detail.
She stressed the commitment of both the Chinese and British governments to abide by the agreement.
Thatcher said that Premier Zhao Ziyang had pledged that "it was the tradition of the Chinese nation to act in good faith, to live up to its international commitments, and that China would prove its words with deeds. Chairman Deng Xiaoping confirmed this."