YES And he'd probably be the first to agree. He didn't exactly leap at the opportunity to celebrate the last few days of the Lunar New Year festivities here, did he? Even at the end of January, his advisers weren't sure whether the Prime Minister dared leave Britain long enough to go to Bangkok for the Asia-Europe summit, in case his government crumbled in the interim. The Conservative Party seems certain to fall from power before Hong Kong changes hands next year. As a symbol of strength, stability and success, therefore, Major's position is akin to foisting Elizabeth Taylor in the role of marriage guidance counsellor upon a timorously engaged couple. His aides were also apparently concerned about the demonstration factor. The last time I was in Macau, President Soares of Portugal was about to put in an appearance and the place was a-flutter with jolly flags. I think it's safe to assume that you're not going to be strangled by celebratory bunting in Central this weekend. On the other hand, I'll eat the pages of this magazine if there are huge marches against Major's presence; the people of Hong Kong recognise when their time is being wasted even if the Prime Minister doesn't. Why on earth is he here? He's refused to see Legco members in open session - maybe Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, so recently grilled by Legco, tipped off his master about that little ordeal. It's possible that he may make soothing noises about visa-free entry to Britain for Hong Kong citizens but since no one back at home is panting with concern about this barren rock it's not exactly a vote-grabber, and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is positively against the idea. No, the theory is that he's here to support Chris Patten by doing a bit of public back-slapping, standing by his man, that sort of thing. Quite what such camaraderie between two men who are about to lose their jobs conveys to China hardly bears thinking about, so China probably won't. Think about it, that is. Beijing has long perfected the art of disdain and this visit is just another opportunity to ignore a British politician, passing speedily through a strategic entrepot on his way to Korea (for trade talks - surprise, surprise). Major will make some minor speeches about the glorious 150 years of British rule because that's all he can say with any certainty, the future having precisely nothing to do with him. And he's bound to have a chat with the Governor about the ceremonies which will take place on June 30, 1997, a matter of some interest at Government House. The administration wants to go out in appropriate style, so maybe they should consider a waterfront tableau of an opium den, complete with suffering addicts. What strange symmetry that those wasted lives have led to this week's wasted visit. NO Let's have a look at the people who are saying Major's visit is a waste of time, shall we? Who is my misguided opponent on the other side of this page choosing to hang out with intellectually? Well, first off there are those paragons of virtue in the Chinese government, who in their attempt to de-politicise the visit have achieved exactly the opposite. In addition, pro-Beijing soapboxers in Legco are also saying the British Prime Minister has no business visiting this British outpost, an opinion that demonstrates a singular misunderstanding. Local businessmen who have turned corporate brown-nosing towards the mainland into an art form are also nullifying the importance of Major's visit. Money is their motivation. As such, my opponent is hardly in exalted company. The sole aim of negating the importance of the Prime Minister's visit is to stifle debate. Anything that is designed to suffocate the free flow of ideas and views on the future of Hong Kong has to be wrong, unless you favour the censorship camp. You may be no fan of Mr Major, but to use personal dislike to argue that his visit is worthless is to pander to those elements in the territory who seek to undermine the very necessary process of high-level discussions about the future of the six million souls who live here. But let's not kid ourselves that there are going to be significant tangible results as a result of the trip. Major's visit is purely symbolic, so assessing whether or not it is a complete waste of time means examining the importance of the symbolism. The symbolic significance of a visit by the Prime Minister with less than 500 days to go before the handover are obvious. It lets people know Britain still has the territory in mind and is paying attention to the concerns of its residents. No doubt there will be reassuring messages uttered from Major's mouth during his stopover and, although actions speak louder than words, words are, at least, a move in the right direction. And that's about it. The trip is not a complete waste of time but it's as near as dammit to being a complete waste of time. It just nudges the realms of relevance for its symbolic value. But I think it is important to support the visit, even if it is by a soon-to-be-defunct Prime Minister. To support the visit is to stand up against those who are trying to dismantle Britain's influence over the territory. These influences are not all bad and any voice that seeks to stand up against potential authoritarian elements needs to be heard. I don't say this to irk the mainland but because dissenting voices let you know that there is at least a debate going on. If 'one country, two systems' is going to work at all, there are going to have to be two sides to every argument. Anything else is dictatorship.