Hong Kong - Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's Chief Executive designate, gives new meaning to the word opaque. Confronted with awkward questions, he smiles, pressed to answer, he smiles even more broadly and cheerfully delivers a reply to something which has not been asked.
For weeks he has been battered by criticism over plans to whittle down the colony's civil rights laws and he has ducked and weaved in response to the criticism. Yesterday he choose to explain his position to two small groups of British and American journalists, the people he has accused of spreading misinformation about Hong Kong. The aim, presumably, was to answer his critics and let the outside world know that, as he put it, the new Hong Kong will have an "equitable, compassionate and democratic society".
He insisted that the changes to the laws will simply bring Hong Kong into line with other countries. The proposed new restrictions on demonstrations, which will make it virtually impossible to call a rally at short notice, are, he says "either the same or less restrictive than elsewhere". The freedom to demonstrate would be preserved and the new administration had no intention of stifling protest. But, he stresses: "We have to find a balance between the rights of the individual to demonstrate and the order of our society." Mr Tung has talked a great deal about Chinese values and the pride which Hong Kong should take in putting them into practice. Asked what exactly were these Chinese values he lists: "An emphasis on family, education, respect for old people and an emphasis on quiet consultation rather than confrontation." Could these values not also be described as being part of the non-Chinese Christian-Judaic tradition, he was asked. As ever Mr Tung smiled, and smiled again, finally saying: "The emphasis is very different". Having lived in Britain he was not prepared to suggest that no one there adhered to these values. "I'm sure in the United Kingdom people also work very hard," he conceded. As the questioning intensified he threw his hands up in the air. "My God," he said, "this is not a press interview, it's a philosophical discussion." Mr Tung likes to think of himself as a practical man. A former shipping magnate, he is used to commanding a large company without the hindrance of public scrutiny, yet he takes it with good grace, albeit mingled with evident perplexity. The problem is that he is no longer a chief executive of a big company but the chief executive of a part of China, a country ruled by an authoritarian and centralised government. …