HK's `Iron Lady' hangs on to her job

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ANSON CHAN, Hong Kong's "Iron Lady", has done it again. Despite Peking's most avid supporters wanting to remove her because she was deputy to Chris Patten, the last colonial governor, she has kept her job.

Not only will she keep the post of Chief Secretary but Tung Che-hwa, Chief Executive, yesterday said Mrs Chan will be staying on after she reaches the retirement age of 60 and will remain until his term of office ends in June 2002.

Mr Tung praised her "remarkable and important contributions" to Hong Kong. Yet the relationship between Mrs Chan and her new boss was so strained when he came to office that he rarely consulted her even though she knew far more than Mr Tung about how the government was run.

Mrs Chan was not helped by the knowledge that Mr Patten had hoped she would be his successor as head of government. Moreover, while Mr Tung scored poorly in opinion polls, she emerged as the person most people wanted to be Chief Executive. Some of Mr Tung's allies regarded her as a "colonial stooge" and accused her of disloyalty to the new regime.

But Mrs Chan has proved herself to be more than a survivor. She used her knowledge of the government machine and her popularity to save the new administration from some of the excesses the pro-Peking forces were advocating.

Now Mr Tung is planning a full overhaul of the civil service which would do away with many traditional privileges and practices and will meet serious resistance. He needs Mrs Chan at his side to pull it off. And, as the government faces increasing criticism, Mr Tung is loath to lose the one member of the administration who can be relied upon to pacify critics.

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