SCMP Friday, February 9, 2001
"When the questions get tough, then you do the side-step," sang a wily politician in a hit song from a '70's musical. He took some time to learn the steps, but Tung Chee-hwa glides a lot more deftly round the Legco floor than he did in the early days.
Falun Gong apart, he said nothing new, but he fielded questions with ease and humour, appealing to legislators for new ideas and help in finding answers to the challenges posed by China's entry to the World Trade Organisation.
Well prepared for cross-examination on Falun Gong, the Chief Executive could not be budged from the cautious approach of his opening statement. There would be no change in pace for eventual drafting of Article 23. This was a peaceful society, built on constitutional principles and the rule of law. No one would be allowed to abuse the tolerance of the people or the peace and order in Hong Kong and the mainland.
In short, it was a terse message to practitioners not to try the Government's patience. But there was no hint of direct action, which will come as a relief to those who worry about a possible clampdown on a group that has done little to irritate the SAR authorities, except hand out pamphlets criticising Beijing.
It is doubtful whether Mr Tung managed to convince critics on domestic issues like housing policy, compensation for householders affected by urban renewal, university funding cuts, the influence of local tycoons on government planning, or the widening gap between rich and poor. But he made the right conciliatory noises.
However much he insists that the Government balances the interests of its 6.8 million citizens equally, some will, quite naturally, continue to have a lot more clout than others. As long as property underpins the economy, the property tycoons cannot fail to influence policy.
But Mr Tung gave an assurance that prices would soon stabilise and then fluctuate in line with inflation.
He struck a graver note in urging people to note the Pearl River Delta's impressive pace of development, and the dangers of complacency about Hong Kong's economic prospects. The future requires co-operation with the region, he said. The theme is familiar, but it needs to be repeated. Hong Kong tends to regard itself as more sophisticated and superior to the compatriots next door. Mr Tung warned against complacency while also urging self-confidence. It was a polished performance, with all the fancy footwork of a maturing politician. He should do it more often.