Hong Kong's new ruler speaks in riddles

Stephen Vines interviews the man Peking has put in charge of the colony

Hong Kong - Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's Chief Executive designate, gives new meaning to the word opaque. Confronted with awkward questions, he smiles, pressed to answer, he smiles even more broadly and cheerfully delivers a reply to something which has not been asked.

For weeks he has been battered by criticism over plans to whittle down the colony's civil rights laws and he has ducked and weaved in response to the criticism. Yesterday he choose to explain his position to two small groups of British and American journalists, the people he has accused of spreading misinformation about Hong Kong. The aim, presumably, was to answer his critics and let the outside world know that, as he put it, the new Hong Kong will have an "equitable, compassionate and democratic society".

He insisted that the changes to the laws will simply bring Hong Kong into line with other countries. The proposed new restrictions on demonstrations, which will make it virtually impossible to call a rally at short notice, are, he says "either the same or less restrictive than elsewhere".

The freedom to demonstrate would be preserved and the new administration had no intention of stifling protest. But, he stresses: "We have to find a balance between the rights of the individual to demonstrate and the order of our society."

Mr Tung has talked a great deal about Chinese values and the pride which Hong Kong should take in putting them into practice. Asked what exactly were these Chinese values he lists: "An emphasis on family, education, respect for old people and an emphasis on quiet consultation rather than confrontation."

Could these values not also be described as being part of the non-Chinese Christian-Judaic tradition, he was asked. As ever Mr Tung smiled, and smiled again, finally saying: "The emphasis is very different". Having lived in Britain he was not prepared to suggest that no one there adhered to these values. "I'm sure in the United Kingdom people also work very hard," he conceded.

As the questioning intensified he threw his hands up in the air. "My God," he said, "this is not a press interview, it's a philosophical discussion."

Mr Tung likes to think of himself as a practical man. A former shipping magnate, he is used to commanding a large company without the hindrance of public scrutiny, yet he takes it with good grace, albeit mingled with evident perplexity.

The problem is that he is no longer a chief executive of a big company but the chief executive of a part of China, a country ruled by an authoritarian and centralised government. This means that Mr Tung must report to his masters in Peking.

His critics say he is doing no more than carrying out their wishes, but he insists that Hong Kong has been promised a high degree of autonomy by China. But, who does he actually report to? "I report to the central government," he replies. Yes, but to who in the central government? "A number of people," he says.

Is it true that there is fighting within the Chinese government for control of Hong Kong affairs and that this might make his position difficult? He shrugs. "I don't know how Whitehall works," he says and is told that it consists of a lot of power centres jostling for control. He chuckles appreciatively when it is evident that he is being asked if the same sort of thing is happening in China.

Some people have suggested Mr Tung is a member of China's ruling Communist Party. He shrugs this off. Are any members of his cabinet party members? He finally says no, adding: "If they were I would not be too concerned. I judge a person by their commitment to Hong Kong."

He is so pragmatic that he is even looking forward to better relations with a Labour government, despite having been a donor to the Conservatives' 1992 election fund. "I hope," he says, "that the Labour government will look at the whole issue in a much more macro way. Look at the long-term relations between Hong Kong and Britain and China and Britain." He believes it is important "to put behind all the argument. Let's sit down and say these things need to be done".

Is Mr Tung frustrated that his message is not understood? "Not really frustrated as such," he says, adding modestly: "I'm not skilful enough to present my message."

Cook promises same policy

The Foreign Secretary telephoned the Governor of Hong Kong yesterday to reassure him that there would be continuity of policy between the outgoing and incoming governments. Robin Cook repeated his confidence in Chris Patten - a former chairman of the Conservative Party, who was appointed by his friend, the former prime minister John Major.

Mr Cook made clear that Britain's policy on Hong Kong would continue unchanged and that the people of the colony could be sure of Britain's determination to make the transition to Chinese rule a success.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution