CHINA'S think tank on 1997 issues is always full of surprises. While the public was still trying to digest its plan for a provisional legislature, the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) for the Special Administrative Region (SAR) dropped its bombshell on the Bill of Rights. These controversial proposals are tagged as recommendations for the approval of the future Preparatory Committee for the SAR, but there is no conceivable reason why the committee should reject them. In fact, all PWC members are expected to be reappointed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) to serve the Preparatory Committee. Although the membership of the Preparatory Committee will be enlarged, it will be dominated by those already serving on the PWC. The Preparatory Committee, which takes over from the PWC next January, will be working against a tight schedule. It is unrealistic to expect the future panel to discard everything the PWC has cooked up. Chinese officials have made it clear that both the provisional legislative assembly and the chief executive-designate for the first SAR government should be named by the second half of next year. After a recent trip to Beijing, the Liberal Party told the media China was prepared to push back the selection of the chief executive until the end of 1996. However, this was later denied by Xu Ze, the head of the political department of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. It now appears China is determined to stick to its original plan to finalise the casting of the SAR government as soon as is practicable. ACCORDING to an NPC resolution in April 1990, the Preparatory Committee should form a 400-member selection committee to choose the first chief executive. 'The selection committee shall be composed entirely of permanent residents of Hong Kong and must be broadly representative,' said the NPC. The 400 tickets are to be shared equally among the following four social categories: the industrial, commercial and financial sectors; the professions; labour, grassroots, religious and other sectors; and former political figures, including Hong Kong deputies to the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. China's highest policy-making congress further resolved that: 'The selection committee shall recommend the candidate for the first chief executive through local consultations or through nomination and election after consultations, and report the recommended candidate to the Central People's Government for appointment.' The NPC, however, did not specify how exactly members from these general groupings are to be nominated and chosen. Local political groups have demanded that democratic elections should be held in each of the four divisions to ensure that the 400 members are truly 'broadly representative'. The topic has become even more important now that the selection committee is to take on the additional power to pick the 60 legislators for the provisional law-making body. The political sub-group of the PWC has suggested members of the selection committee be allowed to be nominated for the interim legislative assembly. However, the sub-group failed to fill in the details about how the 400 members are to be chosen. It has been suggested in political circles that China would not entertain the idea that the selection committee be composed of elected representatives. Instead, an influential four-man 'super selection committee' will be set up to vet nominations. The powerful team, it is rumoured, will be headed by the chairman of the future Preparatory Committee. The position is likely to be reserved for the vice premier-cum-foreign minister, Qian Qichen, who already presides over the PWC plenary sessions. The Preparatory Committee's vice-chairman, secretary general and his deputy will also be included. Such an arrangement will keep public input on who qualifies for the selection committee to a minimum. This is unlikely to be confirmed until the Preparatory Committee has announced its intentions. If the rumour turns out to be true, the formation of a 'super selection committee' is bound to be a major disappointment to the public. It could be seen as a big blow to the concept of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong', even before the supposedly highly autonomous SAR is set up. THE PWC will hold its final plenary session by the end of the year to endorse the reports and recommendations from its five sub-groups. But so far, there has been no call for democratic elections for the selection committee during their deliberations. Neither has there been any sign of the Chinese authorities seeking to organise elections for the selection committee. The demarcation of the exact domains of the four broad social categories alone will be a difficult job. If China is to keep to its timetable, the Preparatory Committee will not have time for the luxury of an open debate on selection committee membership. It will take months before a fair set of rules can be devised, for instance, just to define who should be given the privilege of taking part in the nomination of the 100 seats for the 'labour, grassroots, religious and other sectors'. Several more months will be needed for proper registration, nomination and election for the four individual categories. Given the practical time frame, the Preparatory Committee will probably have to resort to some simple, centralised and highly-controlled mechanism to form the selection committee. It does not seem too presumptuous to assume that another selection committee will be created for the 'selection committee' proper. The only outstanding question, it appears, is how selective the membership of the 'super selection committee' will be.