COUNTDOWN TO HANDOVER
June 27, 1997
As the transition to Chinese rule lies just around the corner, Hong Kong's Anson Chan prepares for her role in the political scene after the handover.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Next, the Hong Kong transition from British to Chinese rule. It takes place officially on Monday but has been underway unofficially for years. Ian Williams of Independent Television News reports on a key person in the transition.
IAN WILLIAMS: Every June, one of Hong Kong's most colorful festivals unfolds on the waters around the colony. The dragon boat races commemorate an ancient legend, a morality tale of when local fishermen raced out in their boats in a failed attempt to save a loyal government official, who drowned himself after being rejected by corrupt cronies of the emperor, fitting perhaps that the person presiding at the races has come to personify clean and efficient government.
Mrs. Anson Chan is head of the Hong Kong civil service and the most senior member of the government after Gov. Chris Patton. She heads a 180,000-strong government machine that's earned Hong Kong the reputation as a fair place to do business. She's the first woman and the first Chinese to hold the top job, and she's also the colony's most popular public figure, consistently leading in opinion surveys ahead of her current boss and of Tung Chiwah, the man who will soon be in charge here.
She's been a staunch supporter of Mr. Patton's democratic reforms and a critic of China and Mr. Tung's plans to roll them back. Nevertheless, she says she's looking forward to serving Mr. Tung. But in an interview with Channel 4 News she spoke of the political freedoms she believes Hong Kong people must defend and of what she expects of a future boss who's been equivocal about those freedoms.
ANSON CHAN, Chief Secretary, Hong Kong: The chief executive, to be a successful chief executive, clearly has to have the trust and confidence of China's leaders, but at the same time the chief executive would have to defend and stand up for Hong Kong's autonomy, assure the community here that he has their best interest at heart; that he will defend all the human rights and freedoms that are guaranteed under the joint declaration and the basic law.
I think it is crucially important for Hong Kong people, themselves, to appreciate and thereby protect the ingredients that have led to Hong Kong's current success. That means, for example, remaining open, remaining as a personal policy international city, preserving the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and the entire community remaining united, a tolerance for dissenting voices. I think all those have helped to make Hong Kong the international and very successful economy that we currently are.
IAN WILLIAMS: How important is a free press in Hong Kong?
ANSON CHAN: We need to maintain an environment in which we can continue to have free and active press. The government has a role to play in this, but the proprietors, the journalists, and the reporters also have a very, very important role to play. We would not wish to see self-censorship creeping into Hong Kong after 1997.
IAN WILLIAMS: Sentiments that have led to her being dubbed the conscience of Hong Kong. That's provoked speculation about tension with her future boss, though she does profess loyalty to him. Mr. Tung supports the scrapping of the colony's democratically-elected legislature and the introduction of tighter colonial era controls on public order, actions Mrs. Chan thinks are unnecessary.
ANSON CHAN: I think the community here has learned that it can cope with a degree of democracy. Clearly, it has not led to a crackdown in law and order. We have a society that tolerates dissenting voices and people who exercise their political rights with considerable moderation and restraint.
IAN WILLIAMS: When Mrs. Chan first joined the civil service, it was still seeped in colonial ways, very British and very male. There was little room at the top for local Chinese or for women. Indeed, women enjoyed only a fraction of the pay and perks of their male counterparts. Mrs. Chan was promoted to the top job in 1993 by Mr. Patton, who ushered in an era of less pompous and more open government. He also allowed for a far greater policymaking role for his senior officials, a role that may be eroded under Mr. Tung.
After work, a chance for Mrs. Chan to relax with her grandchildren. In spite of her reputation as a tough bureaucrat seeped in western ways, she is a family person, and her family has impeccable Chinese credentials. Her grandfather was a nationalist general and hero of the war against Japan. Her mother is a well-known artist and calligrapher. Another magazine provides another profile of Hong Kong's most influential woman and of the man she'll soon be serving and whom she probably would have beaten had there been a more open contest for Hong Kong's top job.
IAN WILLIAMS: Do you ever have any regrets that perhaps--about not putting your name forward last year?
ANSON CHAN: no, I don't have any regrets. I took that decision after very careful consideration of all the relevant factors. I've had an extremely satisfying and rewarding civil service career so far. And I fully intend to continue to serve in the civil service until it's time to go.
IAN WILLIAMS: When Mrs. Chan decided to stay on, accepting Tung Chiwah's offer to be his number two, her decision was loudly applauded in Hong Kong and abroad, a measure of the enormous respect in which she's held. The relationship between the two is now seen as pivotal to the future success of the government here and any rift seems certain to have a devastating impact on confidence. For now, Mrs. Chan says she's determined to make that relationship work, but she's equally determined to continue to speak up for what she believes in and for the integrity of the civil service she sees as a bastion against the sort of cronyism and corruption so prevalent in mainland China. For the chief secretary it will be a hard balance to maintain.