Hong Kong's leader-to-be shows spirit

Tung Chee-hwa, who will lead Hong Kong's first post-colonial government, has delivered an unexpectedly strong message about China's interference in the territory's economy on the eve of his departure to Peking, where he will be formally appointed Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

Speaking yesterday at a businessmen's lunch, Mr Tung said: "We must deal resolutely with any organisation at provincial and city level from mainland China who will be seeking special favours in establishing themselves in Hong Kong. They are welcome to participate in Hong Kong's economic activities but they must abide by the same rules as everyone else."

He also delivered a stern warning about preventing corruption from creeping "into our dedicated and efficient civil service" and said he would ensure that "money and politics do not mix".

In making these remarks Mr Tung appears to have taken on board some of the most frequently expressed public fears about Hong Kong being engulfed in a sea of corruption from China after it resumes sovereignty in July.

Nevertheless, he made it equally clear that he was not in favour of any action which could be seen as confronting the new sovereign power.

He conceded that there was scope for Hong Kong and China to have different views about "what needs to be done" but stressed that "quiet negotiation does not mean weakness. Achieving your aim needs not to be done through open confrontation and street demonstrations".

Asked who would be his boss, Mr Tung at first jokingly shrugged off the question by suggesting it would be his wife, Betty, but then conceded that part of the purpose of his visit to Peking was to gain an answer to this question. It is likely he will be received by both President Jiang Zemin and the Prime Minister, Li Peng, who should be in a position to give a definitive reply.

In Peking, the foreign-ministry spokesman told Hong Kong journalists that the stability of the civil service was essential for a smooth transition of power. This remark was taken as meaning that the leaders of the civil service would retain their jobs. Fears have been expressed that China would exclude civil servants regarded as too close to the current British administration.

The spokesman also made it clear that although Mr Tung would nominate the policy-level civil servants, they would have to be approved in Peking.

Mr Tung will also discuss with Chinese leaders the operation of a provincial legislature to be formed next month and run in parallel with the existing Legislative Council, which China will abolish.

He has acknowledged that the existence of two parallel lawmaking bodies is problematic but insisted yesterday that Britain was ignoring reality by refusing to acknowledge the provisional body.

He said that doubts about its legality could be resolved by a simple act from the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.

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