SITTING in his harbour-view office at the Hongkong Bank building, newly-appointed Executive Councillor Vincent Cheng Hoi-chuen appears a modest man. He says he has little political ambition. What he wants to achieve is to serve his company and be a good father and citizen. Yet his political career took a new direction this month. He was offered a seat in the elitist inner-cabinet of Governor Chris Patten after he quit the Legislative Council in the summer. As one of only two Exco members who also serve as Hong Kong Affairs Advisers named by China, Mr Cheng's late entry to Exco has been seen as just the start of a wider political path ahead. Both Mr Cheng and Tung Chee-hwa are tipped as forerunners for the post-1997 executive assembly - the equivalent of the present Exco in the Special Administrative Region. Now General Manager and Chief Financial Officer of the Hongkong Bank, Mr Cheng is no stranger to social and political participation - like many of his peers in the early 70s. They took to the streets against social injustice under the colonial administration. 'Our opposition against the colonial government was simple. It's wrong in principle,' he says. 'To students, there's only black and white. But that's also what we want students to be because when you grow up, you have to learn to compromise. Otherwise, the world will not live in harmony,' he says. Appointed to Legco in 1991, Mr Cheng sought to harmonise the relationship between the liberal and conservative forces under the flag of the so-called 'Breakfast Faction.' This is because, to the leading banker, Hong Kong is no longer the same as it was before its economy took off. 'We did not have a lot of resources to solve our problems in the 60s and 70s . . . Any assembly of more than three people was illegal. We did make a lot of improvements on matters like housing and welfare. But that does not mean we should stop there.' He warned, however, of the emerging trend of egalitarian demands. 'It's a pity that we'd never asked for assistance in the past. People just tried to grab the opportunity and move up the social ladder. 'But now many just believe that society owes them.' The Government, he said, was obliged to help the underprivileged: the elderly, disabled and single-parent families, but not to the extent of killing work incentives of those who are able to work. 'Too much effort has now been spent on how the cake should be divided. We should try to expand the cake rather than trying to get a larger slice,' said Mr Cheng. He dismissed studies claiming that the gap between the rich and the poor had further widened as Hong Kong climbed the ladder of wealthy states. 'We have to bear in mind that the public has a lot of subsidies in housing and medical . . . We should allow disparity to boost the motivation to get rich. Otherwise, we will become a China in the past decades. Is it the society we want?' What of his immediate political life? The new Exco member misses Legco, but admitted he felt more comfortable advising the Governor behind closed doors. 'There's a lot of political posturing in Legco. Privately, many [members] are easy to talk to. But publicly, they have to take a radical position in order to be accountable to their voters. 'Hong Kong has a weird political system. Legco is the loyal opposition, not supposed to govern under the executive-led system. They always demand the best, knowing that it's beyond Hong Kong's means. 'Unfortunately, compromise will make one look undisciplined and not able to live up to their pledges to their supporters.' With any institutional changes to the political framework unlikely in the next two years, Mr Cheng believes solutions lie with more dialogue and reasonable talk. 'We [Exco] have to explain more to the public about our decisions and get their support. We will then be able to discuss with Legco and show them support. It may be easier for Legco to compromise,' he said. Mr Cheng is convinced that closer communication between government officials and their Chinese counterparts is equally important when it comes to dispelling suspicion and misunderstanding and leading the way to a smooth and stable transition. Through persuasion and explanation, he said, the Government should try to secure Chinese support for its policies. 'There's only one goal for the Government - the interest of Hong Kong people. 1997 should not become a hindrance. I'm convinced that China also has the interests of Hong Kong in mind. 'If we stand still, others will catch up. It's good for Hong Kong and good for China if we have a smooth transition. China also does not want to take back a rotten apple after 1997,' he said. Moreover, Mr Cheng is against major changes to the Bill of Rights, which has already been in place for some time and has received public support. He urged the Preliminary Working Committee and the future Preparatory Committee to seek the views of government officials and those in the public service. 'They should try to agree on the issue before the various sides publicise their extreme positions. The public does not want to hear differences, but rather wants to hear a solution,' he said. That is what Mr Cheng believes politics is all about. 'People want to have a job, a place to live and do not have to worry. That's what politics should serve. Politics is not an enemy in itself. 'I don't seek political office. My greatest ambition is to work for the Hongkong Bank, and to use my spare time to contribute to society and my family. You don't have to be a great man or do great things. The best contribution is to be good parents, to look after your children . . . If every parent can do that the next generation will have no problems.' Mr Cheng said he could have chosen to 'sit back and relax' after his Legco appointment expired - if it were not for Chris Patten's offer, which he accepted without a second thought because it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Like many in his peer group, Mr Cheng said he had sought a second passport as an insurance before 1989. The application was approved after the June 4 crackdown, although he has now given it up. 'I'm too old to make a change,' he said. And how old is that? Just 47.