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Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA)

Calm in the war zone is Camdessus lifestyle

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 September, 1997, 12:00am

Some people see International Monetary Fund supremo Michel Camdessus as being more like a bomb disposal expert than a financial leader - given the sometimes explosive nature of the developing world's debt problems.

Such an analogy is more appropriate than most would realise. Before becoming one of the world's most powerful financial figures, noted for his cool head in a crisis, the IMF chief was involved in a less heady but equally tricky occupation.

As a second lieutenant in the French Army, Mr Camdessus' primary role was detonating mines in Algeria during its independence struggle with France.

Incidentally, the seminal work on the Algerian war with France is apparently titled The Wretched of the Earth - on which Mr Camdessus has no shortage of knowledge, given his present role.

The hero of the Hong Kong dollar, Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief executive Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, would be advised never to pursue a life of crime.

After outlining his grand vision for world monetary peace and harmony to the press at the Grand Hyatt Hotel yesterday, he looked for a quick escape route via the hotel's side entrance directly into the Convention Centre.

Unfortunately, Mr Yam's Houdini impression was not up there with his monetary vision.

The side entrance was locked - and surprisingly lacking the powers to knock the door down, Mr Yam sheepishly pushed his way back into the middle of the pursuing media pack.

The freshly crowned Central Banker of the Year eventually made his exit via the front door - just like a mere mortal.

Mr Yam's team of currency warriors at the HKMA are keeping their profile up through more than just press briefings by their superior.

The body has set up four stalls at the Convention and Exhibition Centre extension, presumably to wow monetary boffins with the extensive resources of the SAR's dollar protector.

Only trouble is, at the last count there was nothing actually in three of the four stalls, while the fourth was virtually bare except for a couple of cheerful young HKMA representatives and a sparse collection of books.

We're well aware of the self-promotion benefits of having lots of outlets at talkfests - but it may pay actually to use them.

The sheer size and ferocity of the media scrum attending the speeches of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and US-based investor George Soros took even hardened conference organisers and newspaper types by surprise. Vouchers for the two events on Saturday and Sunday became almost as tradeable as certain regional and international currencies.

Amid the intense glare of the international media, a surprising distinction between the two emerged.

While Dr Mahathir seemed to be followed around the conference by any amount of media and general groupies, Mr Soros was spotted wandering unaccompanied - and apparently unrecognised - around the cavernous convention centre extension at the weekend.

We wonder whether Mr Soros will still be able to keep a low profile in the wake of yesterday's developments.

Mr Soros' anonymity drive seemed to extend to his activities last night.

His long-awaited press conference was postponed at the last minute until 7.15 pm. This put the financier's pearls of wisdom in direct competition with the welcoming cocktail charmfest put on by the World Bank and IMF Boards of Governors.

That started at 7 pm - giving the assembled throng 15 minutes to down their liquor and tear down to Mr Soros's briefing.

His shot at a low-key approach appeared to fail. His press briefing still attracted a noisy media throng, although there was no shortage of banking and media types that stayed around to enjoy the booze-up.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has coolly negotiated a path through a minefield of tough questions from US congressmen and international figures over the past couple of weeks.

But he was temporarily stumped by a poser from a Colombian journalist after his opening address on Saturday about Hong Kong's relations with Latin America.

'Do you think you're friends?' she boldly ventured.

After a full few seconds of deafening silence, Mr Tung eventually said haltingly: 'I attended the Chilean National Day celebration yesterday . . .'.

A further few awkward moments passed, before he added: '. . . and to find out it's going to take 40 hours of flying to get there.' He eventually settled into his stride, giving a prolonged message that 'the world is our [Hong Kong's] home'.

We're sure the Colombian reporter went home happy.

Sharpen the quills-The press centre at the World Bank-IMF meeting is crammed with whiz-bang gadgetry - from a sophisticated line-up of Internet terminals, to high-technology photocopying equipment and a super-efficient fax centre. A rather quaint contrast comes in the form of typewriters provided on every work desk in the centre - reviving the atmosphere of a 1950s-style typing pool (see inset). Unfortunately, not many reporters, apart from the one in this picture, seemed to be making much use of the writer's traditional tool of trade.