If Tung Chee-hwa is undecided whether to visit the United States before July 1, a telephone call he got on Thursday may have swayed him. The caller was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, a recent visitor. It seems that Mr Tung impressed the Speaker when they met here over breakfast, with Mr Gingrich coming away struck by the future Chief Executive's independence of mind. So he put in his call to urge Mr Tung to make the visit, and continue their conversation on Capitol Hill. The appointment of the new Chief Justice appears to have narrowed down to a two-horse race between Exco member Andrew Li Kwok-nang and Appeal Court Judge Justice Benjamin Liu Chi-ming. The word is that Mr Tung favours Mr Li while China prefers Mr Liu. Mr Liu led a legal delegation to Beijing last month, and his supporters say he got a warm welcome from judicial officials. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office was, however, reported to have remained neutral. Mr Li, on the other hand, lacks a strong Beijing connection, though it is said that Elsie Leung Oi-sie introduced him to the Chinese authorities when she attended the National People's Congress meeting in March while he happened also to be in the Chinese capital. The decision by three major European countries to break with the other 12 members of the European Union over human rights in China is provoking some strong diplomatic exchanges. After a spirited debate between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, Germany is joining France in withdrawing backing for a motion on the subject to the United Nations sponsored by the European Union. Italy has moved the same way. As a result, says a senior official at Union headquarters, policy is in 'complete disarray'. The Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, which currently holds the Union presidency, is warning that the essence of West Europe's human rights policy is at stake. It will be the first time for eight years that the Union has not either sponsored or supported a resolution on human rights in China. But is that so surprising? President Jacques Chirac of France is about to visit Beijing, where he hopes to sign a huge contract to sell China Airbus planes. The President has long doubted whether public attacks on China do any good, and diplomats in Paris say the policy now is that 'private persuasion should take place over public posturing'. For its part, Germany has major companies like Volkswagen deeply involved in Chinese industry. Their partners may be annoyed, but the European Union's heavyweights seem to have decided it's time for a significant switch. When trainee lance corporals from the Black Watch regiment were handed out awards last week, two of them got hip flasks. Particularly appropriate, that, since members of the Watch are not allowed to visit the bars of Wan Chai. With those flasks, they won't need to, anyway.