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29Oct92 HONG KONG: CLASH WITH CHINA EXPECTED OVER AIRPORT PLAN.

Hong Kong is set for a head-on clash with China over its £8,000 million airport plan following a frosty four-day visit to Beijing last week by the colony's governor Chris Patten.China threatened to tear up all construction and financing contracts if Hong Kong built the airport without its agreement. It also said it would refuse to allow flights through its airspace.The menacing war of words is the clearest indication so far that China is willing to do almost anything to prevent the airport going ahead.The row is linked to Mr Patten's plans for introducing democratic reform in the colony which have been condemned by the Chinese amid fears that greater political freedom in Hong Kong will lead to a rebirth of the democracy movement in China.Mr Patten has slammed China's stand over the airport because the country has thrown out Hong Kong's financing and development plans but not suggested its own schemes.Sources believe that if the row becomes more acrimonious it could threaten the UK trading relationship with China.Coincidentally, Britain's biggest ever trade mission, led by industry minister Richard Needham, was visiting China this week.A group of Hong Kong investors led by Peter Sutch, chairman of Swire Group, has proposed its own airport financing package if the Hong Kong government is prevented from going ahead with its plan.Mr Sutch, whose company owns Cathay Pacific Airways and a host of shipping interests, said a consortium of financiers could be brought within six months, although its plan would still need agreement from China.