China's two-day exercise to gauge local views on how a selection committee should be set up to return a provisional legislature and the first chief executive for the post-1997 Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has turned out to be a public relations disaster. Fingers have also been pointed at the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, which is responsible for the security for the visiting Chinese delegates. China's Preparatory Committee (PC) has been accused of being authoritarian in muffling dissenting voices. The police have been criticised for using excessive force to contain legitimate protests. While the consultation forums were still in progress, China's Central Television (CCTV) concluded in its main news broadcast on Sunday that the meetings had been a success and 'had created some positive effects'. The assessment by Beijing's propaganda machine, however, hardly tallies with the mainstream public opinions expressed in the territory. Unlike CCTV, the local media has focused their coverage primarily on activists' protest actions. A photograph carried on the front page of Ming Pao newspaper last Friday, for instance, has probably negated much of the police force's efforts to boost its public image. A plain-clothes expatriate police officer was captured clutching the throat of a protester, when a score of activists tried in vain to present a petition letter to the director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Lu Ping , outside the airport. CNN and other global television networks also showed footage of the incident and other subsequent protests. Images of students being driven out of the venue where meetings were taking place, teachers mounting a silent sit-in, or police confrontations with protesters whom the Chinese officials refused to meet, can hardly be construed as signs of public confidence in Hong Kong's political future. Despite repeated pledges by Chinese leaders to 'face the Hong Kong people', the PC has failed to manage even its first exercise to solicit local opinion. The consultation was conducted under the auspices of the PC, which has been handpicked by the Chinese National People's Congress to tackle all issues relating to its resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997. The committee is poised to select a list of social groups, professional bodies and trade associations to submit their nominations for the Selection Committee. The PC will then pick from the shortlist, 400 persons to sit on the selection panel. The Chinese authorities are set to use the 'findings' of their consultation exercise to confirm that those who do not support the idea of an appointed interim legislative assembly should be excluded from the selection process. The latest round of local protests is only a harbinger of more noisy and, perhaps, drastic and emotional protests to come. After all, the PC was only supposed to be collecting views this time. Within half a year, the PC will not only have to decide on the composition of the Selection Committee, but to ensure that the actual selection procedures are carried out, irrespective of how unpopular they could be. In early 1997, the chief executive-designate and members of the provisional legislative assembly will not only have been named, they will also be actively preparing for the official takeover on July 1, 1997. At that time, the Chinese authorities will also have to enforce their policy to oust the 60 incumbents of the Legislative Council, elected under the democratic reforms of Chris Patten. The democratic camp and other pressure groups are doomed to become even more agitated. They are likely to turn more militant as they find themselves in the international media, from whom Hong Kong will no doubt receive much greater scrutiny. Earlier this month, the Government's Information Services Department started surveying which of the main foreign news organisations would be interested in covering the handover ceremony. A questionnaire has recently been posted on the Internet, asking media organisations to register their interest and indicate how many journalists and crew members they intend to dispatch. A task force has already been put together for media arrangements, although local officials still have been given little clue as to what exactly Beijing has in mind for the historic occasion. The department will have a better idea of how many news hounds are heading for Hong Kong when it has gathered the replies. However, it is estimated that between 3,000 and 6,000 reporters from more than 100 countries will be here. Given their performance during the consultation exercise, both the police and the PC appear to have been inept in handling protests. The intense media interest, coupled with a growing sense of political frustration, may well turn into a public relations calamity for local law enforcers, the Chinese authorities as well as the SAR government in its infancy.