The Chinese-British dispute over the shape of Hong Kong's government is seriously threatening work at the planned $20 billion airport. China said it would not honor airport contracts that go beyond 1997, the year Hong Kong reverts to Chinese rule. The Chinese say they are worried about the British colonial authorities' overborrowing to finance the airport. But their real target appears to be the democratic reforms Governor Christopher Patten is likely to introduce in March. Although most contracts awarded so far will not be affected, the Chinese stand could crimp bidding for such key franchises as baggage handling, catering, and aircraft maintenance.

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