SWIRE Pacific and a key shareholder in its majority owned Cathay Pacific Airways, Beijing's investment arm Citic Pacific, had an ugly public slinging match last week. An angry managing director of Citic, Henry Fan Hung-ling, declared war on London-backed Swire after a report on Tuesday quoted Cathay managing director Rod Eddington as saying Hong Kong was too small to support more than one major international airline. He called Mr Eddington's comments 'nonsense'. Mr Fan went on to call for an end to Swire's decades-old 'monopoly' of Hong Kong's aviation industry, and said it was about time the hong's London-based controllers woke up to reality and faced competition. What was being played in newsprint was not a childish game, despite the apparent juvenile words coming from the mouths of the players. The stakes involved are enormous, and the political implications far greater. For aviation is the final piece of the puzzle that remains to be fitted into place in the run-up to 1997. The future of other sectors of the territory's economy under Chinese rule has been worked out. The high-profile aviation industry, with its corresponding national pride and enormous economic worth, has proved the hardest to sort out. As Mr Fan said last week, 'only the fittest will survive' - a declaration with which Mr Eddington said he wholeheartedly agreed. But the words being put forward by the public players have far more meaning than their dictionary definitions. All were chosen carefully, and all had deep-rooted messages that were overlooked by few watching with interest to see just who the victor would be. The analyses below focus on the players involved and examine the agenda each has in what has become a real-life game of Monopoly that is sure to run well past the territory's handover to China in 1997.