In a manner of speaking

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 February, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 February, 1994, 12:00am

FRANCIS Cornish, the British Trade Commissioner, has not always kept the low profile required of him while he is merely Her Majesty's second most senior representative in Hong Kong.

Here, on Chris Patten's patch, British diplomats are expected to be seen and not heard. But in at least one previous incarnation Mr Cornish deliberately set out to make a splash. Posted as British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam, he decided to ignore the usual practice for foreigners and present his credentials to Sultan Sir Hassanal Bolkiah in the fluent Malay acquired during an earlier stint in Kuala Lumpur.

The requisite abasements and obeisances were out of the way, and he was already confidently into his stride and well into his second sentence of introduction. So when one of the attendant courtiers suddenly slithered across the floor to him in full kowtow and frantically offered to translate, the new High Commissioner was only slightly nonplussed.

Since the Sultan continued smiling throughout, he graciously declined the offer. Only afterwards did he realise his mistake. The language of the Court is Malay - but dressed up in robes of silk and gold. What he had actually said in the demotic language of KL was something on the lines of ''Wotcha, cock! 'Ow's the Missus? This palace is a bit of all right, old son, innit? As it turns out the Sultan took it all in good part. It remains to be seen if the Chinese will be equally tolerant of the Cornish pitch on behalf of British trade.

Let's hope it's not inappropriate forms of address that have prompted those unpleasant rumours China is about to discriminate against UK business. BRITISH businessmen will learn to cope eventually. Colonial institutions in Hong Kong meanwhile have developed their own way over the years of dealing with suspected Chinese malevolence.

Strange objects catch the eye up on the roof of the Legislative Council. Round white stones have been laid neatly but unattractively against the balustrade of the eastern wall. And a neglected fish tank nestles at a telltale angle against the foot of theformer Supreme Court building's neo-classical dome.

Could the guardians of this temple to the rule of law and rational government possibly have succumbed to superstition? Could they have brought in the fung-shui man? They could. And a glance over the wall would make even the most sceptical legislator sigh with relief at their sensible precautions. For pointed like a dagger at the heart of the fish tank is one of those threatening angles of that work of malign genius,the Bank of China. Poor fish.

Up the hill at Government House, they worry that one of the Bank's other corners might pose a fung-shui threat to British rule and perhaps even to the Governor himself. But it is untrue that Chris Patten, a devout Catholic, posts a guard in one of the windows to stand facing the bank with his index fingers held up in the sign of the cross. UNDERNEATH the Legco dome, meanwhile, where legislators sit protected from the bad vibes by a few goldfish in green water, attention is fixed on more important matters.Such as what it is President John Swaine gets up to when he hands over to his deputy Elsie Tu in the middle of a debate and disappears through the door behind his wooden throne.

Answering the call of nature? Perhaps. But Wednesday is race-day. Rumour is rife that he goes off to watch his horse on TV, before slipping back into the chamber in chastened or elated mood.

Legco members have told us they often suggest this to him in a joking tone, only to find him laughing heartily but unrevealingly in reply. The mystery remains unsolved. THERE are now almost as many TVs plugged into satellite dishes in India as there are bullock carts. But it is still only Westerners who are impressed by global media empires.

Rupert Murdoch, boss of Star TV and the Indian satellite station Zee TV, has been having a bit of trouble getting to see home-grown media tycoon Dr J.K.Jain. The proprietor of the 24-hour Jain TV will be his main competitor in the subcontinent's satellite market.

Dr Jain just happens to double as shadow minister for broadcasting deregulation matters from his seat in the Raja Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, where his party still has more influence than in the lower chamber.

He has made - and then claimed to have been forced to cancel - no less than six appointments with his distinguished rival. Indeed, when he stopped over in Hong Kong on his way for a two-week visit to the United States last Friday, he said he still had an appointment scheduled with Mr Murdoch in New Delhi for February 16.

''I didn't want it to seem I didn't want to meet him,'' said Dr Jain as he made his way to the airport. ''But I really do have so much else to do.''