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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

THE NEW ELITE

Five people who will have a big say after July

By Law Siu Lan


WHEN TUNG CHEE HWA is sworn in as Hong Kong's chief executive on July 1, he will usher in a new generation of movers and shakers -- some his own appointees, others hand-picked by Beijing. The men -- and one woman -- you will read about here are expected to help define Hong Kong's relationship with its new master.

THE NEXT CHIEF?

(John Stanmeyer - Saba for Asiaweek)

LEUNG CHUN YING does not sit still for long. That's why he left real-estate firm Jones Lang Wootton to carve out his own property and surveying empire. Money was not the issue. "People work for a vision," he says. It is this coolly ambitious streak that fuels speculation that Leung may quietly be preparing to run for Hong Kong chief executive when Tung Chee Hwa's term ends in 2002.

Leung's track record is impressive. He is already a member of Tung's inner circle and chief of his housing task force. And he has played an active role in such key organizations as the Preparatory Committee, the Beijing-appointed body on transition matters. Though he briefly joined the Hong Kong Observers, a vocal and liberal group of professionals that has become defunct, "I was never a radical," he says.

If anything, Leung is a realist. A property surveyor by training, he began cultivating his mainland connections in the early 1980s. His quiet style and skills as a technocrat soon won the respect of the then mayor of Shanghai, who made him a special adviser on the city's development. That relationship was particularly propitious -- Shanghai's chief was Zhu Rongji, now China's economic czar. Leung later became involved in drafting mainland property laws; he is credited with promoting a shift in the policy on land ownership in China, which until recently had rested solely in state hands.

Inevitably, Leung's housing post has drawn accusations of conflicts of interest because he owns a big surveying firm. Unmoved by the criticisms, he changes the subject. The community must look past the handover, he says. Political and economic changes in China will have a far-reaching impact on Hong Kong's future: "These are far more important than the change of flag or the Basic Law [constitution]."

Soft-spoken, controlled, Leung leaves little to chance. That is why he decided not to vie for the chief executive's job last year despite support from trusted Beijing advisers, says columnist Cheung Lap. "A calculating person like Leung does not to want to end up nothing if he fails to get to the top." A pro-China politician, the late Dorothy Liu Yiu Chu, once made a similar assessment: "Only when the dust settles does he come out." Given the haze over Hong Kong, that may take a while. But then Leung has time on his side: He is only 42.

THE 'GODFATHER'

TO SOME, HENRY FOK YING TUNG is known as the man who sold Chinese weapons in the 1950s. And to the Beijing leadership he will always be the "patriotic capitalist." Fok, 74, is one of the few Hong Kong businessmen who have been close to Beijing from the earliest years of communist rule. Now he is set to be a "godfather" of the new Special Administrative Region (SAR), wielding considerable clout in China, as well as with Tung Chee Hwa.

Born to a fishing family, Fok learned early to fend for himself -- he was only seven when his father died. He has since built an empire estimated at about $2.5 billion, most of it privately held. Origins of this wealth are unclear but the cornerstone was certainly laid during the Korean War. Fok helped China circumvent the U.S.-led embargo on military exports to Beijing's northern ally, and the communist rulers demonstrated their gratitude. In the 1970s, they awarded him a monopoly on the supply of Chinese sand to Hong Kong. A few years later, he became sole distributor of mainland petroleum products in the territory.

Fok is today a tycoon with interests ranging from shipbuilding to casinos to property. His most talked-about investment, though, was not in his own business. In 1986, he injected $120 million, part of it from the Bank of China, to bail out Orient Overseas Container Line, the troubled flagship of Tung's family business. Which puts Tung forever in Fok's debt.

Despite his status as a veteran leader of the business community and as a power broker, Fok has kept a low profile. But he is already taking a more vocal role on Hong Kong affairs. Fok recently chastised the colonial government for allowing property prices to rise to unacceptable levels, and local liberals for "sabotaging" Hong Kong interests in the name of democracy. Democrats dismiss his views as being unrepresentative of the people, but there is no denying his rising stature in the SAR. Fok is expected to be made a vice chairman of the National People's Congress, a lofty position that has eluded even the most senior of Beijing's representatives in the territory. As Chan Wai Yee, a journalist, notes: "Fok is one of the few Hong Kong figures with direct access to [the Beijing leadership]. His support would help smooth away many potential problems for Tung." But probably not problems on the international front.

THE SURVIVOR

PATIENT, THOROUGH, WITH AN EYE for detail. Traits that make Nellie Fong Wong Kut Man the international tax expert she is. Qualities she will need as an executive councilor in Tung's cabinet. Fong, a youthful 48, is responsible for explaining to the world the nitty gritty of the "one country, two systems" policy that will guide Hong Kong for the next 50 years. "My training requires me to be precise," she says.

Her high-level posting surprised Hong Kong's political establishment. Fong has long been associated with the colonial administration. Some see her as a turncoat and attribute her survival to close ties to Lu Ping, the Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs and something of a mentor. But that may be reading too much into the appointment. Academic Wong Ka Ying notes Fong's proven professional and administrative skills. She spent six years on the Urban Council, and was appointed to the legislature by Governor Chris Patten's predecessor. Another plus, at least from Beijng's perspective: She chairs the Better Hong Kong Foundation, set up in 1995 to counter biased Western reports with the "real" story about the territory. Fong's loyalty and ability to win 21 local tycoons' backing for the project counts with China.

Fong is the product of an enlightened Hong Kong, one that allowed educated, assertive women to move up the professional and political ranks. Clearly, she has made the most of the chances. Fong, a partner with accounting firm Arthur Andersen, sees her SAR role as helping tap the economic opportunities in China: "If we include southern China, we have a market of 100 million people, roughly half the European Community."

Fong is no democrat. In her view, direct elections are flawed. "People are elected on the basis of personality rather than ability," she argues. She helped design the electoral college of peers who chose Tung. "It reduces the risk of putting the wrong person in office," she says. Conservative views, deeply held. This can be a strain at family get-togethers: Martin Lee, leader of the territory's vocal Democratic Party, is a brother-in-law. To keep the peace, they don't talk politics -- a solution that will not work outside the home.

THE SOLDIER

HE HAS ONE OF THE MOST DEMANDING jobs anywhere: putting a friendly face on the People's Liberation Army. Maj.-Gen. Liu Zhenwu is the commander of Hong Kong's post-handover garrison. This is one military job that requires a solid grasp of public relations. Hong Kongers have the bloody Tiananmen crackdown of 1989 etched in their minds. They will be watching Gen. Liu closely, as will the rest of the world.

So far, the career soldier has performed convincingly. In Hong Kong, he faces more scrutiny than Chinese top brass are accustomed to, but he has handled the attention with considerable élan. When reporters tried to embarrass him by making him speak bad Cantonese, Liu outflanked them by speaking the dialect like a local. Later, he invited the press to inspect the garrison's mainland headquarters.

Like many Chinese generals his age, Liu, 53, has never seen combat. Yet he seems to have been destined for military service. Born to refugee parents fleeing the Japanese in Hunan province during World War II, Liu heard a mouthful about Japanese atrocities. His given name means "strengthen the military," and when he turned 17, Liu enlisted. He spent much of his recent military career in Guangdong province, across Hong Kong's border, with the 42nd Army. He rose from chief of staff in 1983 to general in 1992.

Commanding a mere 15,000 soldiers (not all of them in Hong Kong) may seem like something of a career comedown. But Liu clearly relishes his new non-military challenges. According to a senior British officer, Liu's main goal is to "change the PLA's image through Hong Kong, which is a window on the world." Liu's friendly demeanor seems to have paid off so far: When his men rolled into town last month, people hardly noticed.

THE DIPLOMAT

IT MAKES SENSE. Who better to head China's new Foreign Affairs Office in Hong Kong than its former ambassador to Britain? But don't be taken in by Jiang Enzhu's conservative suits, the avuncular demeanor, or the impeccable English. Jiang, 58, did not turn into an Anglophile during several diplomatic tours in London. But he is neither abrasive nor churlish like some Chinese officials. "He tailors his performance to the occasion," says a Western official. "He's one of their smartest operators."

It is a reputation widely appreciated in Bejing's diplomatic circles. Jiang's bosses were especially taken with the way he handled talks in London over Governor Chris Patten's unilateral political reforms in the early '90s. Essentially, Jiang said "no" -- but with such style. As the negotiations wound down, he coolly announced it would be "no big deal" if the talks failed to produce an agreement. The upshot: Beijing would dismantle the reforms.

A native of Jiangsu province, Jiang entered the foreign service in 1965, just before the Cultural Revolution began. His English fluency won him foreign postings, allowing him to escape much of the chaos. He served in the London mission in the '70s, returning to Beijing as director of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Western European Affairs and a vice minister. He is expected to approach his post from a global perspective, having said that "relationships between Hong Kong and China should be ruled by international law." A smooth operator, indeed.

-- Edited by Choong Tet-sieu and Todd Crowell


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