THE Chief Justice, Sir Ti Liang Yang, has emerged as a strong rival to shipping magnate Tung Chee-hwa for Hong Kong's first post handover leader. Veteran pro-China figure Xu Simin said yesterday he would nominate the top judge and claimed Sir Ti Liang, 67, had agreed to stand for selection. Sir Ti Liang is on leave in Canada and was unavailable for comment last night. Mr Xu said he would speak again with Sir Ti Liang today to confirm his candidacy before making a formal announcement in Beijing tomorrow. Mr Xu, a long-time adviser to China, is a Standing Committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. He also sits on the Preparatory Committee and is a member of the sub-group on Selection Committee. Another committee member believed the re-emergence of the Chief Justice as a serious candidate for chief executive of the Special Administrative Region government meant it was now a two-man race between Sir Ti Liang and Mr Tung. He said Chinese officials had been seeking the views from pro-China figures recently on Sir Ti Liang. Mr Xu said: 'It's not a healthy development that people believe the so-called 'Tung-Chan ticket' has been chosen.' It has widely been assumed that Preparatory Committee vice-chairman Mr Tung, a former Executive Councillor, would get the top job with Anson Chan Fang On-sang continuing as Chief Secretary. But Mr Xu added: 'There are no chosen ones. 'The 'Tung-Chan ticket' is just speculation. 'Businessmen are the strongest supporters of giving the post to Sir Ti Liang. A judge has no business connections and there are many against Mr Tung because of his business background.' Mr Xu said the Chief Justice had been happy to accept his nomination. 'I asked him whether his term of office, which ends next March, would be a problem. He said it wasn't because he could apply for an early departure in November if necessary,' he said. In the meantime, Mr Xu has been soliciting support for a Sir Ti Liang nomination. Although Mr Tung is the firm favourite for the post, he has yet to formally confirm himself as a candidate. Asked if his move was a tactic to press Mr Tung to make an early announcement about his candidacy, Mr Xu said: 'It would be a good thing if Mr Tung made clear his stance.' Mr Xu said he had not discussed Sir Ti Liang's nomination with Chinese officials. The Chief Justice was one of the early names to be tipped for the post, but his chances had appeared to fade. Another committee member maintained Sir Ti Liang had always been a serious contender, despite his having appeared to have slipped back as Mr Tung came to the fore. 'It's wrong to say the race is a foregone conclusion. It's not likely a decision has been taken. If Tung has already been chosen, he would have spoken out already,' he said. Professor Lau Siu-kai, another Preparatory Committee member, said: 'Of course, Sir Ti Liang Yang has his own advantages. 'I have heard some suggestions that there may be some problems with his administrative skills. 'His political skill and wisdom may also fail to win full confidence from all sides. But the reality is that there is no perfect candidate.' Tsang Yok-sing, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said Sir Ti Liang was a suitable candidate, but urged him to stand down as Chief Justice if he decided to run for the seat.