Jiang Zemin

Jiang encounter marks magnate as candidate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 1996, 12:00am


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HONG KONG shipping magnate Tung Chee-hwa, who likes to keep a low profile despite his immense influence in business and politics, was caught in the spotlight again yesterday.

A fortnight ago he leapt into contention to become the inaugural chief executive of the SAR when political colleague and business affiliate Henry Fok put him forward as the man most likely.

Yesterday, the reclusive Mr Tung fell under the gaze of 147 peers and the glare of spotlights in the awe-inspiring Great Hall of the People as China's President Jiang Zemin rose to shake hands with people after group photographs were taken.

As a vice-chairman, Mr Tung was allotted a place at the end of the first row. Mr Jiang was seated in the centre of the row.

As Mr Jiang stood to offer his congratulations to those behind him, he suddenly stopped and searched the crowd of beaming faces for the son of late shipping magnate C. Y. Tung.

The President stepped past colleagues sitting to his right and shook hands with Mr Tung.

The Executive Councillor, who has promised to speak to the media about the likelihood of becoming chief executive 'in due course', was tight-lipped about the brief encounter.

He had smiles to offer but no word about the implications of Mr Jiang's gesture.

It was not long before the committee was sent about its task.

Mr Jiang warned them that time was running short and that the workload was heavy.

One did not need to be reminded by the countdown clock in Tiananmen Square of the number of days left before June 30 next year, Mr Jiang said.

After each member received a letter of appointment from National People's Congress chairman Qiao Shi in a brief ceremony broadcast by state-run television, they introduced themselves to each other.

But apart from the brief photo-call and the telltale hint from Mr Jiang that Mr Tung was in the running, discussions were very much behind closed doors.

As some of the estimated 300 journalists covering the historical event - including a 100-strong crew from national television network CCTV - milled around, Xinhua (the New China News Agency) Vice-Chairman Qin Wenjun yelled a word of warning to unwary committeemen: 'Watch out for your documents!' From then on proceedings were marked by closed doors and collective responsibility on the future of Hong Kong.