The colony's governor has attacked China for "playing politics" over a much-needed container terminal and airport.

"We do not link government and livelihood issues," Chris Patten said Wednesday in his annual statement to the Legislature. He spoke of a "worrying delay" arising from lack of Chinese agreement on the two projects.China, which regains sovereignty over Hong Kong in four years, is withholding approval of the terminal and the airport in a dispute over Mr. Patten's proposals for a modest extension of democracy ahead of the hand-over.

The local tripartite consortium selected for the container complex said it cannot proceed until the deadlock is resolved so financial issues can be settled.

"Even a two-year delay in Terminal 9 would mean the loss of HK$20 billion (US$2.5 billion) from 1997 to the decade beyond," Mr. Patten said. "Ships will be turned away and may not return to use our port."

The current facilities are over-stretched. Hong Kong processed the equivalent of just under 8 million 20-foot containers last year, ranking it No. 1 in the world, and growth, much of it related to southern China's booming economy, is running in double digits.

Mr. Patten said delaying the "essential" expansion of the port not only imperils Hong Kong's prosperity, but also "will hamper our ability to service the export-led growth of southern China as fully as we would wish - and as China has indicated it wishes us to do."

Without Beijing's blessing, private companies here and abroad are reluctant to invest in the airport, which was meant to be completed by 1997. That deadline, however, now seems unlikely to be reached. Work is continuing on site preparation and land reclamation, with some 600 acres formed.

"But pragmatism is not enough; delays loom," the governor said. Key projects like the railroad link "cannot start until there is agreement (with China) on financing."

The governor, who has made a reputation of standing up to China, said his administration will persevere to win Chinese cooperation.

China said Thursday it regretted that Mr. Patten's speech did not bring the two sides closer together, but said Beijing was still ready to talk, Reuter news service reported.

More broadly, the governor's two-hour policy outline stressed protecting the environment, upgrading young people's language and computer skills, rooting out corruption and improving housing, health and other social services.

The private sector will be "invited" to take a greater hand in cleaning up the environment. The government will appoint so-called green managers in every department, and private companies will be encouraged to conduct efficiency audits and appoint similar in-house watchdogs.

With Hong Kong increasingly reliant on services rather than manufacturing, the governor lamented the fact that there are only 5,000 personal computers in local schools, with just one-third of secondary pupils opting for a career in information technology.

He said the government will spend more than HK$100 million to ensure there is a computer for every pupil on computer courses in secondary schools, about doubling the number of machines.

The governor strongly hinted that he will proceed with his electoral reform proposals next month even if China has not agreed. He is to go to London for talks with Prime Minister John Major and other senior British officials in November.

The limited extension of the franchise "poses no threat to China," and some changes have been made to take into account Chinese concerns, the governor said.

"We have shown how far we are prepared to move. I leave it to the Chinese to show how far they are prepared to move," Mr. Patten said.

"We are not prepared to give away our principles to sign a piece of paper. What would that be worth? This Chinese city knows that a free society under law works. If we do not stand up today, what chance will there be tomorrow?" he asked.