Today marks the beginning of the most important year in Hong Kong's history - 1997 is no longer a concept, it is a reality. For the more than six million residents, 1997 is the year of changes - Hong Kong will have a new sovereign, a new chief executive and a new executive assembly and the provisional legislature will be installed. Hong Kong people are greeting these changes with mixed feelings. Some view the changes with trepidation and suspicion. Others take all new initiatives and plans as sure-fire improvements for a better future. But most people are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Most Hong Kong people accept that changes are inevitable, but they hope the worst features of China will not be imported to Hong Kong. Local people know there will be a new-style leadership after the changeover, but they are hoping that the tradition of open government and accountability of public officials can stay intact. Until now, Hong Kong people have seen some encouraging signs - the chief executive-designate, Tung Chee-hwa, has adopted the Hong Kong practice, opening himself to direct questioning by the media as Governor Chris Patten does and suggesting that he does not mind criticism. But that is not enough. A few days ago, Hong Kong people saw a very worrying example of mainland bureaucracy and wondered whether the mainland standard of public servants' behaviour will be imported to the territory. Local people know that mainland officials had suggested that Hong Kong officials had to publicly declare their support for the provisional legislature before they could be appointed principal officials, but on Sunday, Xinhua (the New China News Agency) vice-director Zhang Junsheng insisted that China had never made such a demand. The community here understands that sometimes mainland officials cannot act and speak with consistency and they are not allowed to openly admit mistakes. But those are mainland standards. Local people would prefer that mainland officials would adopt Hong Kong standards so that when there is a change of policy, you say it and when there is a mistake, you admit it. Until now, Hong Kong people by and large have trusted and respected the local civil service. They hardly challenge the legitimacy of the present Government because they have confidence that public servants are acting honestly and in the best interest of the community. They do not want this good character and tradition of the civil service to change. The community is looking up to Mr Tung to ensure that the governing principles of Hong Kong will not be distorted by the management culture of the mainland bureaucracy. The danger now is that under the shadow of an all-powerful sovereign in Beijing, many people, either inside or outside the Government, may want to second guess what is acceptable to Beijing and start to promote mainland standards to be the norms of the local administration. Such a tendency may not be something encouraged by Mr Tung but if it does become a powerful force to change the basic character of the local civil service, it will undermine the new chief's governance. Making sure that those inside the public service resist such a temptation and ensuring that those outside refrain from meddling in how the bureaucracy should be run will be a real test for Mr Tung. Hong Kong is now on its way to the most important phase of change and development. Mr Tung has a heavy responsibility in the next few years. Whether it is make or break for Hong Kong in the next century, we will have to wait and see.