HONG KONG (AP) _ People must learn to love them, said the delegate from Japan. But the smell is still a problem, said the official from Beijing.

The subject was, well, the title is self-explanatory: The Asia-Pacific Seminar on Public Toilets 1994.

The three-day gathering that opened Monday brought together scientists, city officials and clean-toilet crusaders to explore a new frontier in Asia's march to affluence: answering the call of nature in hygienic, high-tech surroundings.

''We would very humbly like to learn from our more advanced counterparts,'' said Zhou Jinhan of the sanitation department in Canton, China.

He had only to visit the foyer of the building where the seminar was held. There, he would have seen the top-of-the-line commode on display.

Today's public toilet is compact, self-contained, easy to transport and can be up and flushing in a matter of hours, said Pascale Smolinski, area sales manager for a French manufacturer.

Her toilets come with infrared or magnetic fields that flush automatically when used, and are coated in the same weather- and graffiti-resistant material as France's high-speed trains, she said.

Asia's performance on what some speakers called ''the toilet culture'' is patchy, ranging from sheer squalor in some countries to sparkling Singapore, where failure to flush carries a hefty fine.

China's transformation from communism to capitalism makes it a huge potential market for basic creature comforts.

''With our economic development, we shall have adequate strength to create a 'toilet culture' to attract the attention of the whole world,'' boasts a paper to be presented by two sanitation officials in Shenzhen, China.

But meanwhile, ''odor is still a problem,'' admitted Mai Shaozai of the Beijing sanitation department.

He noted that an average person spends up to 3 percent of his lifetime in the toilet, and urged the Chinese leadership to give the matter priority.

''Beijing is moving toward becoming an international metropolis so we have to improve our public toilets.''

Delegates agreed that education is the key, starting in the kindergarten.

''Why can't we make the public toilet into something we love?'' asked Sachiko Azai, whose Japan Toilet Association campaigns for better standards.

She showed a photograph of a public toilet in a park with a children's slide coming down from its roof.

''If the public toilet in the park is very close to the children, they will learn to love it,'' she said.

Ronald Leung, who heads the Hong Kong Urban Council, said the toilets in the British colony rank the best with Japan and France.

Leung's council is host to the seminar, which has drawn guests from Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, China and the Philippines.