Top Chinese marks for new HK leader

Victory is sweet, but expected, for the colony's first Chief Executive, writes Stephen Vines

"Now we are finally masters of our own house," said the 59-year- old shipping magnate Tung Chee-hwa yesterday, after he was chosen to head the first post-colonial government in Hong Kong, making him the Chief Executive of the territory once it comes under Chinese rule on 1 July.

One hundred and fifty years of British colonial rule was about to end, he said, and it was up to the people of Hong Kong to "walk the road together".

Mr Tung's road was cleared by Peking. The Chinese made it clear that he was the favoured candidate and devised a selection process in which he won 320 of the 400 votes of the Selection Committee, a body mainly representing big-business interests and Peking's supporters.

The two other candidates in the so-called election, the former Chief Justice Sir Ti Liang Yang and the businessman Peter Woo each got around 10th of the votes won by Mr Tung.

"You are writing the history of Hong Kong," said Qian Qichen, China's vice-premier who presided over yesterday's voting. "I trust you will make your choice with responsibility."

Surrounded by a careful recreation of Peking's Great Hall of the People in the rather more modern surroundings of Hong Kong's convention centre, the committee's members showed they had quickly learned Chinese ways of doing things. The proposals of the Chinese leaders were enthusiastically endorsed by clapping. Discussion was not on the agenda.

Outside the hall a small group of protesters carried a symbolic "tomb of democracy", saying democracy was being killed off by the Selection Committee. "It's not an election by the Hong Kong people," said Cheung Man-kwong, a legislator who joined the demonstration. "It's just an appointment by the Chinese government."

As the voting got under way, 29 people, including the outspoken legislator Emily Lau, and two fellow law-makers, were arrested for causing an obstruction and dragged away, screaming. She was later released and she returned to the Legislative Council to move a motion casting doubt on whether Mr Tung would "have the determination to safeguard a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong and resist the Chinese government's interference".

Meanwhile, government officials, including the Governor Chris Patten, rushed to congratulate Mr Tung. The most effusive greeting came from the Chief Secretary Anson Chan who described the election as a "very happy day". Mrs Chan had been the popular choice for the top post but China considered she was tainted by association with the British administration. Nevertheless she hopes to cling to the number-two post.

Even the Democratic Party, the colony's largest political party, was keen to offer a hand of co-operation to Mr Tung, although it has strongly opposed of the selection process.

Mr Tung and his entourage today crossed the border to Shenzhen where his nomination will be confirmed by the Preparatory Committee, the Chinese body with overall responsibility for preparing the hand-over of power.

The crossing of the border was loaded with symbolism. It showed that real power no longer resides with the British administration in Hong Kong but in China where yesterday the Chinese foreign ministryspokesman rather carelessly referred to Mr Tung as "our Chief Executive".

Now the fanfare is over, Mr Tung will face the formidable task of dealing with new masters who do not speak with one voice. Powerful factions, including provincial interests, the armed forces, the big state companies and the central government, are competing for a slice of the Hong Kong action.

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