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Future of Hong Kong rests in the hands of an enigma

Lu Ping, the director of Peking's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office,who is visiting Hong Kong this week, is effectively the man responsible for bringing the colonies back into the Chinese fold. He is something of an enigma.

The advisers to Governor Chris Patten fondly imagine that Mr Lu is really a reasonable man, hamstrung by orders from on high. Some prominent pro- China figures in Hong Kong see him turning into a ``little emperor'', over-conscious of his importance.

Mr Lu, 67, has strong presentational skills that stand in sharp contrast to those of Zhou Nan, Peking's head man in Hong Kong.

Mr Lu is far more presentable. He knows when to smile, wears smart, but not flashy, Western suits and can woo international audiences with his fluent English.

His ease with foreign languages - he also speaks Russian, French and Spanish- stems from an education at the elite St John's University in Shanghai, a training ground for the country's leaders. As a child he lived briefly in Hong Kong. His estranged wife has lived there for almost a decade.

After graduating Mr Lu worked as a translator and then a journalist. As a person with foreign connections, he became a victim of the Cultural Revolution but was later rehabilitated.

In 1990, Mr Lu became head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Views are divided on how much influence he wields. Wong Man Fong, a former senior Chinese official in Hong Kong, has portrayed him as little more than a messenger, arguing that all substantive matters of Hong Kong policy are decided by the Communist Party at the very highest levels.

Others concede Mr Lu is politically a lightweight but maintain he is the main conduit to the leadership and has influence over shaping Hong Kong policy.

In Hong Kong he has given every appearance of being the man in charge; yet appearances are often deceptive in Chinese politics.