Just as the future of corporate Hong Kong is clouded in some uncertainty, so too are the identities of those who will fill many of the most senior boardroom posts after the change of sovereignty. No one's future is more talked about than that of Cathay Pacific Airways' managing director Rod Eddington. The view is that after 17 years with the Swire group and with the handover looming it may be an appropriate moment for a departure. He has been tipped to head many of the world's leading airlines, with Ansett Australia at the top of the list, and recently a political career in his native Australia has been mentioned. He is non-committal, except when it comes to politics. 'I'm not going to comment on the record. If I comment on the record it just fuels the speculation. 'But I wouldn't be a politician for all the tea in China,' he says. However, after a 90-minute meeting the clear impression is left of a man who feels his time has come, having helped to secure, at least in the short term, a ground-breaking deal with two mainland companies that repositions the territory's aviation industry ahead of this historic shift. For someone who professes a distaste for politics Mr Eddington has, for the past 15 months, found himself submerged in a politically charged fight for control of a highly visible, foreign-owned industry. Since March last year, the powerful China National Aviation Corp (CNAC) had been attempting to set up its own airline in the territory, threatening to challenge Cathay's and Dragonair's rights to serve key markets. CNAC, which is controlled by the regulatory Civil Aviation Administration of China, halted its plans only after taking over 35.86 per cent of Dragonair for $1.97 billion - a bargain price, according to most analysts. As part of the agreement, Citic Pacific - the Hong Kong listed arm of Beijing's China International Trust & Investment Corp - paid $6.3 billion to increase its shareholding in Cathay to 25 per cent from 10 per cent. Mr Eddington does not dispute that the deal he helped broker, in which the two companies ended a half century of British domination over the territory's aviation industry by bringing Swire Pacific's shareholding in Cathay down to 43.86 per cent from 52.63, has political implications for the future of corporate life in Hong Kong. There has been widespread concern that it was a trend-setting example of how mainland companies would muscle their way into Hong Kong boardrooms after securing favourable terms for entry. The restructuring has been seen as a model for further expansion by the mainland into Hong Kong, and Hongkong Telecom, which is much more than 50 per cent-owned by British concerns, is seen as next on China's takeover list. Mr Eddington's reply is typically direct: 'To those who say that Chinese companies are going to come in here and push Hong Kong companies to one side, I say that what has happened here is a clear demonstration that that is not true. 'Chinese organisations which want to become involved in the business world of Hong Kong are looking at ways to work with Hong Kong companies, not against them, and so personally I think that the outcome is a positive sign not a negative sign for Hong Kong. 'Is this the beginning of a trend? It could well be. History will answer that question one way or the other. 'If it is, I don't think that it's a trend that this community needs to be unduly concerned about,' Mr Eddington says. Citic Pacific, which until recently owned a strategic 10 per cent of Telecom, is cited as Beijing's prime vehicle for expansion into British-controlled, Hong Kong assets. Its mysterious manoeuvres at Telecom, culminating recently in the disposal of a 2 per cent stake in the company to a secret buyer, have given credence to this view. Citic also showed its capacity for sudden, unexplained strategy shifts in the weeks before the restructuring of Cathay's shareholding. The clearest example came on March 11, when Citic chairman Larry Yung Chi-kin and managing director Henry Fan Hung-ling quit Cathay's board, saying they wished to concentrate on the development of Dragonair. Three months later, Mr Fan is back on the board of Cathay, Citic has significantly increased its stake in the airline, and it has reduced its shareholding in Dragonair to 28.5 per cent from 46.15. When asked how Citic could be trusted after such drastic policy swings, Mr Eddington said he had faith in the conglomerate as a loyal, long-term shareholder. 'Citic Pacific have been long-term shareholders of Cathay Pacific Airways now for the better part of the decade. They're as good as their word and I have absolutely no doubt that if they're saying now they are long-term shareholders for 25 per cent they will be as good as their word here too. 'You're going to have to ask Larry [Yung] why he changed his focus from Dragonair to Cathay Pacific Airways,' he adds. The change in focus has led many to speculate that China, while satisfied for the moment with its shareholding in Hong Kong's airlines, eventually will want to take more at the expense of Swire. Although the meaning of 'long-term' as described in the three-sided deal has not been defined, Mr Eddington is convinced that it should last at least a decade. 'I'm going to say that 10 years is a good guess and that will take us into the next century. I don't subscribe to the view that this is the first of a number of steps. There's nothing in the agreement to support that and there was nothing in the conversations which surrounded that. 'The view that this is the first in a three or four stage play is poorly based.' The allegation that it was principally a politically motivated deal to appease the Chinese also is firmly denied by Mr Eddington, who concedes, though, that political advantages have been gained through its completion. 'Having Citic Pacific in as a major shareholder and Citic Pacific being not only a key Hong Kong company but also a key mainland organisation brings obvious benefits to Cathay Pacific Airways,' he says. 'This is a business which is a mixture of politics and economics. Swire was never under any political pressure from Beijing to sell down in Cathay Pacific. But put yourself in Sir Adrian Swire's position. Wouldn't you if you were him have asked the question [about the future of the airline].' 'What I've given you is the Cathay Pacific Airways story. There is, and I can't speak for Dragonair because I'm not on it [the board], but there is a Dragonair story as well. The Cathay Pacific Airways deal was part of a much broader deal.'