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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicHunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original  manuscripts
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
lifeAiming to show breasts in a non-sexual way for cancer awareness
New Articles
i100... while following the referendum
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
Arts and Entertainment
tvBut something’s not quite right
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week