Many predicted that Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang's recent official visit to Australia would be largely overshadowed by the Dalai Lama's controversial tour of the country. But Mrs Chan had her own way of surprising pundits. The Tibetan spiritual leader is, of course, a far more important and potentially damaging factor in terms of Sino-Australian bilateral relations. It is understandable that the international press was more interested in covering how the Dalai Lama had been received by his hosts in Canberra, as well as how Beijing had reacted to it. But Mrs Chan also managed to make the headlines. She put her foot in her mouth by calling the disputed Diaoyu Islands by the Japanese name of Senkaku Islands. Her choice of words has raised many eyebrows amid the rising anti-Tokyo sentiments. The incident was debated in newspaper columns and over talk-back radio shows. It even led to one public affairs programme host speculating on air that the chief secretary was forced to toe the British line by opting for the Japanese label. Governor Chris Patten subsequently had to speak in defence of his right-hand woman. Mr Patten, however, was more cautious. In his exchanges with the media, he neither used the terms Diaoyu nor Senkaku. He got away by referring to the islands as 'them'. 'You look at a map and sometimes they are called one thing and sometimes they are called another,' insisted Mr Patten. One wonders, however, how he would react if Mrs Chan were to refer to the Falkland Islands as the Islas Malvinas, which is favoured by Argentinians. Or try telling the Koreans the Tok-to Islands should take the name of Takeshima. The Deputy Chief Secretary, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, was equally careful while speaking in the absence of Mrs Chan. Following the Governor's example, he also refrained from naming the disputed territory. He only referred to them as the islands. Mr Suen was called to give his comments on the tragic death of David Chan Yuk-cheung off the Diaoyus. The vessel from which Mr Chan jumped into the ocean was earlier renamed the 'Bao Diao', or 'Protect the Diaoyus', by the protesters. Mr Suen did not call the vessel the 'Bao Diao', instead he just referred to it as 'the ship'. Likewise, the accident off the Diaoyus was just 'the incident at sea'. Mrs Chan apparently was the only high Hong Kong official who referred to the islands by a specific name, though Government press releases invariably use the term Diaoyus in brackets. She was obviously aware of the blunder caused by her slip of the tongue. When she returned from Sydney on Sunday night, she was quick to dismiss any political implications in her use of the name. Mrs Chan insisted that it was for convenience in communicating with reporters who did not seem to understand the issue. Mrs Chan recalled: 'It was a foreign journalist who put the question. From his question, I could sense that he did not understand whether [the islands] should be called Diaoyu or another name, that's why I used the more commonly used English name.' Her justification was hardly convincing. Most of the international news organisations have pointedly referred to the islands by their Chinese and Japanese names. For example, take the Sydney Morning Herald, which Mrs Chan might have read during her stay in Australia. In a recent report, the paper's Tokyo correspondent, Russell Skelton, introduced the islands as Senkaku. In his next reference he called them the Diaoyu Islands with the qualification that it was the name given by China. In last Tuesday's edition of the Herald, on the other hand, its Beijing correspondent Stephen Hutcheon first referred to the area as the Diaoyus. He was quick to add that: 'The islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus and which lie about 200 kilometres northeast of Taiwan and 300 kilometres southwest of Okinawa, are claimed by both China and Japan.' Any suggestion that Senkaku is more widely accepted in the international press is built on shaky grounds. It is baffling, to say the least, that Mrs Chan came to the conclusion that Senkaku is easier to comprehend by foreign journalists. She could have left it to the reporter and his editors to sort out what they wanted to call the islands. After all, they should have done their homework. In fact, Mrs Chan appeared not to have done her homework. If she wanted to help an English-speaking reporter, she could have been a little more politically correct and resorted to the original English name by which the islands were referred to. A dissertation by Dr Phil Deans of the University of Kent states: 'In Japanese the islands are always referred to as the Senkaku or Senkaku Gunto, a name derived from a Japanese translation of the name originally given to the islands by the British [Pinnacle Rocks].' The academic based his arguments on earlier works by others, including Inoue Kiyoshi who wrote: 'The Tiaoyu Islands [Senkaku Islands] and other islands are China's territory' in Japanese in 1972. Hong Kong is, of course, still a British colony and is not entitled to any independent foreign policies. Our officials could have easily shielded themselves from any embarrassment by simply avoiding comments on the territorial row. Most ranking officials are doing exactly that with the conspicuous exception of the chief secretary. After next July 1, Hong Kong's foreign policies will be dictated by Beijing. The future chief executive will then have to follow national lines. During the transition period, however, chief executive candidates are bound to be pressed to make a clear stance on the issue. William Shakespeare asks in Romeo and Juliet : 'What is in a name?' His answer is: 'That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.' However, Mrs Chan should have learned that a rock, by any other name can still hurt.