The surprise nomination of Chief Justice Sir Ti Liang Yang for chief executive raises many interesting questions, but perhaps the most obvious is simply this - is the top judge meant to be a serious candidate or is he just there to boost the credentials of Tung Chee-hwa, said by many to be the hand-picked choice of the Beijing leadership? Is Sir Ti Liang really a dark horse or is he just the white knight to save the Special Administrative Region (SAR) chief executive selection from a serious credibility problem? Does Sir Ti Liang himself know what his real role is? A key problem facing China now is the grave scepticism in Hong Kong over how genuine the race for chief executive actually is. Sceptics take it that all the fuss about how to elect fairly members of the selection committee, tasked to elect the first chief executive, is just a show to impress the community and those overseas that the future head is the choice of the people here, instead of one imposed by Beijing. Ever since Chinese President Jiang Zemin made the unusual gesture of seeking out Mr Tung to shake his hand when he met Preparatory Committee members in Beijing earlier this year, many in Hong Kong believe that Mr Tung is the designated chief of the first SAR government. Subsequent endorsement of Mr Tung's candidature by political heavyweights further reinforced this belief. Mainland officials have been at pains to deny that Beijing has already chosen its man, stressing that it is simply impossible to say who is going to make it to the helm as the selection committee has yet to be formed. From a public relations point of view, Sir Ti Liang's candidature serves as timely relief for mainland officials. Compared with PC member, Lo Tak-shing, the Chief Justice's participation in the election is likely to command a wider spectrum of support, thus offering a more credible alternative to Mr Tung. In the eyes of the outside world, particularly the US and Britain, Sir Ti Liang's credentials should not be in question - as the Chief Justice, a well-respected position, he must have possessed every quality associated with a chief judge: independence, impartiality, fairness and an unquestionable respect for the rule of law. Superficially, this will give Sir Ti Liang a definite edge over Mr Tung - a businessman who is seen to be closely linked with a powerful property tycoon in Hong Kong and whose ability to stay impartial with individual business interests has already privately been called into question by some other prominent business leaders. So Sir Ti Liang has a good chance of landing the top job. But can this really be the case? While it is true that the Chief Justice has a good curriculum vitae, it is tarnished by his mishandling of the Bill of Rights issue last year. The direct effect of such an incident is that people are more likely to feel that what he did last year was merely a gesture to curry favour with Beijing to secure the top position. And, as far as Mr Tung is concerned, Sir Ti Liang's assets can easily be turned into Mr Tung's. Given that Mr Tung's overseas image is not bad, what would the West think if he is seen also capable of defeating a top judge in the race for chief executive? Would it further boost the PC heavyweight's authority and credibility or would it undermine his legitimacy? At the end of the day, even if Sir Ti Liang were to lose the race, it would not necessarily be the end of the road. There is always the prestigious consolation prize of the chief judge of the court of final appeal. In this case, it seems to be a win-win situation for Mr Tung and the Chief Justice. China also benefits from the good public relations that will result. And perhaps Hong Kong too.