Tung happy to toe Peking line

Hong Kong handover: Direction of new administration is uncertain, but Reuters news agency is moving out of colony

One day after being chosen as the head of Hong Kong's first post-colonial government, Tung Chee-hwa, the 59-year-old shipping magnate, has sent mixed signals about the type of administration he intends to run.

On the one hand he clearly indicated that he fully supported China's hard-line policies, which include the scrapping of all elected tiers of government. On the other, he said that he looked forward to meetings with the Democratic Party and other critics of the Chinese government, whom Chinese officials have refused to met. He also made it clear that he was not planning a major reshuffle of the top ranks of the civil service.

Mr Tung was speaking yesterday in the Chinese border town of Shenzhen where he was attending a meeting of the Preparatory Committee, the body making preparations for China's resumption of power in Hong Kong on 1 July. He will go to Peking next week to be formally appointed Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

China is hailing Mr Tung's selection as the "beginning of Hong Kong's true democracy", according to the official China Daily newspaper, which appeared yesterday. "It is China's resumption of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong," the commentary said, "which offers Hong Kong the unprecedented opportunity for its democratic development."

China is adamant that Mr Tung's selection by a 400-strong hand-picked committee of Hong Kong representatives gave the entire community an opportunity to participate in what is being described as an "election". This election produced three candidates, although the other two received about a 10th of the votes given to Mr Tung who was picked by 320 of the committee's members.

The same committee reassembles on 21 December to choose the 60 people who will replace the members of the legislature elected last year. More than half the members of the current legislature are among the 130 people who will be considered to fill the new body. Many of the candidates who stood for pro-Peking parties and were defeated at the last election have put their names forward for selection.

Mr Tung said yesterday that the appointment of a provisional Legislative Council was for the good of Hong Kong and that he expected the current government to co-operate with its work.

The Governor, Chris Patten, has made it clear that this will not happen but he has promised to co-operate with Mr Tung on other matters. Meanwhile, the British government has invited Mr Tung to visit London for talks, but he tactfully said yesterday that he was too busy to think of travelling abroad for the time being.

The subtle business of lobbying for places in Mr Tung's cabinet, and for senior civil service jobs, is already under way. The new Chief Executive says that it will take him about a month to appoint a cabinet. He can expect to be given plenty of unsolicited advice as he goes about this task.

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