THE auguries for the Year of the Rooster might seem better for the United States than for Hongkong. America enters the new year with a new president, a new vision and a new broom. Democrats are in office for the first time in 12 years, pledged to prime the pump of the economy, but finding that the recovery may have already started. They have a freer, more democratic world in their sights, and they are willing to question some of the old certainties to achieve it. If the Republicans thought, for instance, that placing conditions on China's Most Favoured Nation trading status would not lead to improved human rights there, or greater democracy for Hongkong, then many Democrats are willing to challenge that assumption. Perhaps the generation that fought in Vietnam will finally be able to lay the ghosts of that era and restore full trade and diplomatic relations with Hanoi. Hongkong has other worries, not the least of which is the danger that US relations with China will worsen. As well as damaging the local economy and slowing the growth of Southern China, trade sanctions could easily persuade Beijing to dig in its heels in still greater opposition to democratic progress. What Kung Hei Fat Choy - good luck and good profits - means to Hongkong this year is a return to a normal political and business climate, where commercial decisions are not likely to be caught in the crossfire between the governments in London and Beijing, and where long-delayed projects can be restarted without a hitch. The popular belief is that a solution to the bitter row with Beijing over the Governor's reform package is a prerequisite for progress on other fronts, although optimists think that China will eventually learn to live with a suitably diluted compromise package from the Legislative Council. Others expect the uncertainty to overshadow business for months to come. Progress on the construction of the new airport, which has hung in the balance since it was first announced in 1989, now looks increasingly unlikely to permit the first plane to take off before the last day of British rule on June 30, 1997. Until China's approval is obtained, no bank in the world will lend money for private funding of Hongkong's most prestigious airport-related projects; and Container Terminal 9 will remain a plan. However as the dawn comes up on the Year of the Rooster, Hongkong also has plenty to crow about. While businessmen with all their eggs in the South China basket cluck nervously at Mr Patten's game of Chicken with Beijing and the Democratic threat to MFN,others with more diversified interests remain calm. The stock market, although buoyed by foreign capital and increasingly unreliable as a pointer to local sentiment, is riding high. Investors seem to have discounted the airport and other uncertainties as they look toward Hongkong's continuing prosperous relationship with China. The territory is poised to benefit hugely as a gateway to Vietnam if the US embargo is finally lifted. Hongkong has gained transit traffic from Taiwan's decision to cut direct air links with South Korea. Despite high inflation and high costs which have begun to push large businesses to relocate some operations elsewhere, there is little sign here of the recession biting as deeply as it has in other parts of the industrialised world. Companies whose fortunes depend on property values going ever upwards may find the New Year disappointing. Curbs on lending have cooled the enthusiasm of the local speculators. Many hard-pressed retailers would welcome a period of stability on commercialrents, which have risen to ridiculously high levels in Central, and are helping to kill off Hongkong's image as a shopping paradise. Last year at this time, Mr Chris Patten was not even a gleam in John Major's eye, and Hongkong faced great uncertainty over the identity and character of its next Governor. Political decisions again create a cloud of doubt over the future as another yearstarts, but the difference this time is that Hongkong has some say in the outcome, through the deliberations of Legislative Councillors. They need all the luck that a golden Rooster can bestow.