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.

Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
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
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

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice