'7-eleven' still a busy man in the thick of it

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2012, 12:00am

It was Sunday afternoon, hot and humid, in the Italian classical-revival style office of Tung Chee-hwa in Kennedy Road.

His office had earlier said his schedule was 'fully packed' so the only slot for an interview was Sunday afternoon, 'very sorry for that'.

The first sentence Tung uttered as he walked into the room, smiling and in good spirits was: 'I'm sorry to make you work on Sunday.'

For 75-year-old Tung, working on Sundays is not unusual. He was nicknamed '7-eleven' while serving as chief executive from July 1997 to March 2005. He seems to have been as busy as ever since he resigned.

He has accompanied Chinese leaders on their meetings with US officials and leaders, including President Barack Obama, or has acted as a senior adviser on behalf of Beijing, meeting business and political heavyweights.

Many of these heavyweights are 'old friends' from whom he seeks understanding, if not support, for China on sensitive issues like the value of the yuan and trade disputes between the two biggest economies.

He was seen playing a unique role when pictured on television sitting next to leading-in-waiting Vice-President Xi Jinping when he visited the US in February and met former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Many people then realised that Beijing valued Tung's views on Sino-US relations, not just on Hong Kong and the chief executive election that would be held in March.

Tung inspires mixed feelings among Hongkongers. He was once well-respected and had a support rating of 80 per cent when sworn into office in 1997. But he ended up resigning in the middle of his second term, two years after 500,000 people marched against poor governance and the government's decision to push ahead with national security legislation as decreed in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution agreed between London and Beijing to guarantee the city's post-colonial rights.

Asked about the 'pains and gains' of his eight years as leader, Tung immediately replied: 'I have no pains. I'm so fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve the country, to serve Hong Kong and its people.

'As I watched the Chinese flag being raised in Hong Kong and became the first chief executive - that was my most unforgettable moment.'

With a shipping tycoon father and his own career in the business spanning several decades, he remains passionate about maritime affairs.

When discussing the issue of how Hong Kong could maintain its competiveness, Tung said Hong Kong should look for a place in China's science and technology development, citing the recent feat by the Jiaolong submersible vessel that dived 7,000 metres as an example.

'I'm a man of the ocean,' he said. 'The earth is covered by oceans; on the bottom there is enormous wealth, in energy, minerals and other unknown materials. By 2050, we'll have 10 billion people. Sustainability depends on the supply of resources,' he said.

Asked about his daily life, Tung, once a regular practitioner of tai chi, said he had given it up. 'I still like tai chi, but now seldom practise it.'

After being reminded by an aide of his next appointment, he confirmed an invitation to talk with him again in five years' time to see if the 'one country, two systems' principal is still working. 'You have my word,' he replied.


Tung Chee-hwa's lowest popularity rating, when half a million people demonstrated against the Article 23 security bill in July 2003


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