China can expect to inherit a wealthy Hong Kong when it regains sovereignty in 1997, the British colony's financial secretary said this week.

Piers Jacobs told legislators the territory's land fund, derived from sales of land leases, would total at least $9 billion by the handover date.Hong Kong's ordinary reserves had almost trebled from the $3.1 billion five years ago, he added.

The financial secretary was referring to fears at home and in China that the colony's ambitious plans to build a $16.3 billion airport and port complex risked draining Hong Kong's reserves.

China has attacked Hong Kong's plans for the airport and port as being too expensive and has expressed concern it will be left with much of the bill after 1997.

"I detected some lingering doubt as to whether we could afford such a considerable financial outlay over a relatively short period," Jacobs said in a speech.

"We would not have proceeded with this package of projects if we did not believe that doing so was clearly within our financial capacity."

Analysts said Jacobs disclosed the land fund forecast, which he described as conservative, to show China need have no fears of inheriting an impoverished territory.

The forecast "should be very reassuring in some quarters after the whole dispute with the airport, and China accusing Hong Kong of wanting to hold a party and using up all the money," said William Overholt, regional strategist at Bankers Trust Securities.