Natural leader he may be, but only the naive think he will really stand up for Hong Kong

Democrats need not apply is the message in the run-up to July's handover, writes Stephen Vines

Hong Kong - Britain formally hands over power in Hong Kong to China on 1 July but today the real shift in power will be confirmed by selection of the first post-colonial head of government.

More than ever before, the Governor, Chris Patten, will be marginalised after Tung Chee-hwa, 59, a shipping tycoon, is anointed as Chief Executive.

The selection has been something of a farce, because China has dressed it up as an election, although Mr Tung was chosen in Peking a year ago.

Nevertheless, the 400 members of a body called the Selection Committee will cast a majority of votes for Mr Tung today.

The two other "candidates", Sir Ti-Liang Yang, the former chief justice, and the businessman Peter Woo, will then gracefully withdraw, declaring it has been a fair race.

However, the process has been a success for Peking, anxious to persuade Hong Kong's people that they are being given their first opportunity to choose their head of government.

But, despite efforts by the colony's increasingly compliant media to portray the election campaign as a real race, there is evidence that the public have not been fooled: an opinion poll indicated that 56 per cent of respondents believed the winning candidate had been chosen in advance by China.

The farce will continue, because within days of the Chief Executive's selection, the same 400 hand-picked members of the committee making that selection will reconvene to "elect" the 60 members of a provisional legislature who will replace the Legislative Council, elected last year by the closest thing to universal suffrage Hong Kong has ever experienced.

China also intends to scrap all the other elected local- government bodies.

In so doing it will begin the new era of Chinese rule with a clean slate, cleared of all the pro-democracy politicians who have consistently gained a lot of votes when genuine elections were held.

Although China may not have convinced the public it is holding a genuine election, it has succeeded in lowering expectations of finding an independent- minded candidate to hold the top office. When the process of selecting the Chief Executive started, the public made clear its desire for the top post to be filled by either Anson Chan, the Chief Secretary and Deputy Governor, or Martin Lee, leader of the Democratic Party. Mr Tung scarcely registered in the public mind.

Peking may be prepared to let Mrs Chan keep her present job but she is regarded as being too closely connected with the British to win the top post. As for Mr Lee, China sees him as a subversive and beyond the pale. Nevertheless, his colleague Szeto Wah has been put forward as the Democratic Party's candidate for the post in a propaganda exercise which has gathered 100,000 signatures.

Mr Tung has risen in opinion- poll ratings because Hong Kong people like to back a winner and because he has displayed talent as a candidate. Able to look both cheerful and thoughtful while out and about on the campaign trail, he is taking a crash-course in learning how ordinary people live.

Unlike many Hong Kong tycoons, his story is not one of rags to riches but a background of considerable wealth originating in Shanghai. However, he was confronted with financial ruin in 1985, when the family's Orient Overseas shipping line incurred debts of $2.68bn. China stepped in to help Mr Tung in a complex corporate rescue plan which, say his critics, left him for ever in debt to the Chinese government.

China's leaders got to know Mr Tung and liked what they saw. He was well connected internationally, at ease in three Chinese languages and English, and has charisma and leadership qualities which have been demonstrated in the business world.

Like the leaders in Peking, he is conservative and not an instinctive democrat, in spite of a decade working in the United States and university studies in Liverpool. His experience of politics has been gained by serving on non-elected Chinese government advisory bodies and in the Governor's Executive Council, or cabinet, which he joined at Mr Patten's invitation after he sought to include a pro-Peking representative.

The big question about Mr Tung is: will he do what Peking wants, or will he, as he claims, stand up for Hong Kong's interests?

Although frequently asked, the question is naive. China simply will not tolerate Hong Kong coming under the control of an independent-minded leader. At most, it will allow a small degree of autonomy and permit the head of the Hong Kong government to devise his own presentation of policies.

It is inconceivable that real power will be ceded to a new Hong Kong government. That is why there are reports of senior Communist Party cadres being moved to the border town of Shenzhen, and talk of restructuring the party apparatus in Hong Kong so that a system of control by political commissars can be put in place. The problem Mr Tung will face is that there are a number of competing Chinese power centres keen to make their mark in Hong Kong. He may well be caught in the middle of a nasty power struggle.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little