China strongly hinted Thursday it would stick to its hard-line stance on Hong Kong despite pledges by visiting British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd to end a stalemate over the colony's transition to Chinese rule in 1997.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, speaking to reporters at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse before meeting with Hurd, indicated Beijing's reluctance to compromise with Britain over Hong Kong's controversial plan to build a new airport.The issue has come to symbolize the struggle over who will rule Hong Kong before Britain's lease on the territory expires in 1997, with Beijing demanding financial control over the costly project.

"People are genuinely concerned about construction of a new airport in Hong Kong," Qian said.

"We hope that on the one hand the airport will be built, but on the other hand we will also be responsible for the 6 million people in Hong Kong as well as the future stability and prosperity of Hong Kong," he said.

Qian's remarks suggested China has no intention of relinquishing its claims over construction of the airport, which Hong Kong's British government estimates would be completed after 1997 at a cost of $16.3 billion.

China is worried the scheme would deplete Hong Kong's valued reserves and has demanded control over the project.

Qian nevertheless vowed Beijing is willing to cooperate with Britain even while hinting debate over the airport issue would be limited.

"We have no intention of intervening in the daily administration of Hong Kong by the British government during the transitional period," Qian said.

Qian met with his British counterpart Thursday for two rounds of talks. Hurd's arrival Wednesday on an official five-day visit marks the highest-level British diplomatic mission to China since Beijing's bloody June 4, 1989, crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

Hurd said upon his arrival that he hoped to move Sino-British talks on Hong Kong beyond the "stagnation" that has characterized post-1989 negotiations over the colony's transition to Chinese rule.

Qian and Hurd devoted their first round of two-hour talks to the situation in the Persian Gulf, the official Xinhua news agency reported.