THE warning by the CITIC Pacific chairman, Larry Yung Chi-kin, that Hong Kong will be 'dead' if Chinese bureaucrats meddle in its internal affairs after 1997 is an encouraging sign that even among mainland businessmen there is a recognition of the importance of protecting the territory's promised autonomy. Mr Yung may hardly be typical of the so-called 'red capitalists'. His powerful family ties in Zhongnanhai give him a licence to speak out where others would not dare. But his comments, in the interview we publish today, echo the reassurances President Jiang Zemin recently gave to Hong Kong business leaders in Shenzhen. Together, they represent a recognition that preserving the territory's prosperity and stability depends upon honouring the guarantees in the Basic Law. Welcome as Mr Yung's remarks are, it is worrying that it had to be left to a mainlander to spell out so unequivocally the risk of mainland provinces and ministries interfering in local affairs after 1997. Equally, Mr Yung is the first to voice publicly the commonly-held private fear that 'there is a very real possibility' of the leadership of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government doing little to prevent this. As shown by the scramble between rival provinces and ministries for the mainland's share of seats on the Preparatory Committee, there is no shortage of contenders to meddle in the territory's affairs after 1997. That problem is recognised at the highest levels in Beijing: with Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Director Lu Ping having pledged it is his department's duty to educate colleagues throughout China on how they will be forbidden by law from eroding the SAR's autonomy. Yet Mr Yung is right to focus attention on the fact that it is also Hong Kong's responsibility 'to stand up against such interference'. At present, there is not nearly enough sign of this. Perhaps the CITIC Pacific chairman was thinking of the Preliminary Working Committee when he warned of the danger that the SAR leadership may instead 'bend over backwards to accommodate' meddling mainland bureaucrats. The public figures now so openly competing for the chief executive's post should have been the ones issuing such warnings. It should not have been left to Mr Yung to indicate that the most important quality for the post is a readiness always to put Hong Kong's interests first, even when that involves standing up against Beijing. Those who now seem rather more interested in perfecting their back-bending skills would do well to take note - and readjust their priorities accordingly.