'THERE are trying times ahead,' Sir Sze-yuen Chung concluded in his analysis of the new power game in 1996, 'the most crucial year in transition', as he called it. Appealing for 'reason rather than emotion' when assessing the reality of the situation, he said this week it was inevitable that a shadow government would appear well before the handover. An overlapping period of about six months with two centres of power was 'neither excessive nor unreasonable'. To Sir Sze-yuen, an early takeover (in essence, though not in name) by the power-to-be was no cause for panic. If the political bombshell dropped by the Preliminary Working Committee heavyweight is the first test for the community in this new era of 'trying times,' he must feel content - even delighted - with the response. Despite predictably hostile words from pro-democracy legislators and cautious criticism from pro-China sympathisers, the community at large has reacted with indifference. Callers to radio phone-in programmes on current affairs did not bother to join the debate in the following days. Their concerns were directed at human rights protection as highlighted by the arrest of leading Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng and that old favourite, unemployment benefits. To the surprise of many in both politics and government, most of the leading Chinese press were far from critical. The Hong Kong Economic Journal said Sir Sze-yuen was not alarmist, 'he is just telling the truth.' The Hong Kong Economic Times believed that the co-existence of two teams of government in early 1997 was 'inevitable', but added the extent of conflict and confusion could be avoided or minimised. Ming Pao questioned whether there would necessarily be a 'shadow government' even though it was indisputable that there would be a 'second nucleus of power' in the latter part of the transitional period. Sing Tao Daily urged its readers not to make a fuss over Sir Sze-yuen's remarks. The emergence of two centres of power, it said, was not a 'bad thing'; it all depended on how the second power centre built up its authority. Should they have reflected on the sentiments of the six million Hong Kongers, the Chinese Government would feel at ease over the potential damage caused by Sir Sze-yuen's scenario. Certainly, China has tried to distance itself from the idea, but there are good reasons to believe that Sir Sze-yuen's analysis reflected at least some of Beijing's initial thoughts. Mainland officials in Beijing and Hong Kong stuck to a two-point 'line to take' that says, firstly, it was Sir Sze-yuen's personal opinion, and secondly, the whole issue would be examined by the Preparatory Committee and the chief executive designate. It is clear, however, that China wants to keep the debate going and get the public prepared for political changes after the powerful Preparatory Committee is established in January. A vice-director of Xinhua, Zhang Junsheng, said: 'It's normal for Sir Sze-yuen to make some comment. We should indeed encourage everyone to raise various kinds of opinion [on the issue.]' Neither Mr Zhang nor any other mainland officials have flatly rejected the possibility of setting up a secretariat office for the chief executive designate as well as the emergence of a second centre of power. The Chinese thinking is that the significance of a smooth transfer of power is above everything. As one senior Beijing official has argued, the effectiveness of the British administration hinges on whether it is able to co-operate and receive the blessing of the Chinese sovereign. To them, the administration will become a lame duck if it does not share power with the future sovereign. The danger of the emergence of a shadow government or alternative centre of power before the change-over, however, should not be taken lightly, or as the inevitable price to pay in the aftermath of the collapse of the Legco through-train. It will create severe doubts over the morale and confidence of the civil service, particularly at a high level, the efficiency of the administration, and the continuity of policy in the local and international community. Hong Kong's unique circumstances have meant the Chinese Government has always functioned as an alternative power nucleus. The local office of Xinhua has acted as the Central Government's office here as the legitimate representative of the Special Administrative Region. But that is not the same as having a 'provisional government secretariat' under the leadership of the chief executive designate in the final months of British rule. The basic question raised and one that needs to be addressed is why it is 'inevitable' to have a shadow government and, if not, whether it is a merely a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only justification for a separate team of officials is that the replacement of the Governor by the first SAR chief executive will lead to a total change of policy and a revamp of his or her top aides. In his address, Sir Sze-yuen said there were three obvious tasks that needed to be tackled by the provisional legislature before the change-over: the endorsement of judges of the Court of Final Appeal and Chief Justice of the High Court; the passing of replacement laws for existing ordinances that would be declared invalid by the Chinese National People's Congress; and approval of the budget for the period from July 1, 1997 to March 1, 1998. While the two sides are yet to discuss the issue of judges and the budget, the only item that they have disagreed on is over the repeal of laws relating to the Bill of Rights. The PWC found them to be in contravention of the Basic Law. Moreover, there is no need for a team of law drafters to work on new pieces of legislation because the NPC is proposing to reinstate the pre-Bill of Rights ordinances. In his Policy Address last month, Mr Patten said he 'will have a different task in my Policy Address' next year. 'I will have to focus on how we are handing over Hong Kong in good order.' It can be assumed that the Patten administration is prepared to take into account input from the chief executive designate when making major policy decisions. There will be two batches of people, but not necessarily two governments with conflicting policy objectives. With their common interest in maintaining effective government before and after 1997, there is no reason to believe that there will necessarily be conflicts between the administration and the chief executive designate. The idea of a shadow government - floated about 40 days before the territory enters the crucial year, 1996 - could be seen as a test of how far the Governor is willing to co-operate with the government-in-waiting after the chief executive is chosen. After condemning Mr Patten as a man of guilt, China might not feel comfortable working with the Governor in the last months before the handover. But as Sir Sze-yuen said, reason, not emotion should prevail in planning a smooth transfer of power. Hong Kong people might not be bothered about a second or third centre of power. But the 180,000 civil servants who have been praised as the territory's greatest asset deserve assurances that there will be a clear centre of command. Failure to do so is in nobody's interests. And as for the six million people who have been promised that the sovereignty change-over is no more than a change of flag and a governor, they deserve pledges that the final months of the transition will be marked by a seamless handover of power without any uncertainties over the future systems and lifestyles.