The viability of 'one country, two systems' and a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong largely hinges on one question: whether Beijing is able to prevent an influx of mainlanders - and the extension of 'power from up north' - into the territory. The leadership of President Jiang Zemin has shown unwonted determination to deter a mad rush of mainlanders to Hong Kong in the run-up to and immediately after July 1. North of the border, the People's Liberation Army will play a prominent role in cracking down on illegal entry into the Special Administrative Region. Chinese sources said up to 120,000 soldiers would either be deployed or be put on standby in Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, and other coastal areas that could be used by snakeheads as staging pads for Hong Kong. Moreover, heads of public security bureaus in southern and eastern China have been told they would lose their jobs if the law-and-order situation, particularly Hong Kong-related crimes, were to deteriorate. Inter-provincial exercises in fighting smuggling - mainly that of human cargo - have been held with increasing frequency. But how about thwarting the southward creep of what Sinologists call the 'mainland power network'? At least superficially, Beijing has made some headway in preventing mandarins from up north riding roughshod over the Basic Law and other Hong Kong norms. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and the State Council have, over the past few months, sent numerous circulars to the ministries, provinces and cities on the imperative of respecting the SAR's high degree of autonomy. Veteran analysts of the convoluted power grid that is Chinese politics, however, have yet to be convinced that the administration of Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa has the wherewithal to 'stand up' to the mainland power blocs. The analysts said not a small part of the power base of Mr Tung, a newcomer to the Chinese political scene, was predicated upon the proverbial 'rule of personality': the personal backing of Mr Jiang. Apart from the imprimatur of the president and party general secretary, there are no well-established systems and institutions to ensure that Mr Tung could beat back the SAR-related encroachments of, say, a powerful head of a ministry, state corporation, army unit, or province. Nor can it be taken for granted that the voice of the SAR chief could override that of heavyweight cadres already ensconced in Hong Kong. And the situation is unlikely to change after the chief executive is appointed a state councillor - a post that is theoretically one rung above a minister - next March. After all, in the Chinese context, the power of a particular office or official does not usually depend on formalities such as statutes passed by the National People's Congress. It is more a matter of connections, factions, and the ability to ride the zeitgeist, what Deng Xiaoping called 'the larger climate'. The personalised nature of Mr Tung's clout is evidenced by the care that the Shanghai-born former shipping magnate has taken to maintain official - and unofficial - channels to the Jiangban, or Jiang Zemin office. Both before and after becoming Chief Executive-designate, Mr Tung has relied upon senior Shanghai-affiliated cadres to relay messages and views to Mr Jiang and other members of the latter's putative Shanghai faction. Soon after Mr Tung's appointment as SAR supremo, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office installed a mainland cadre in the Tung Office to act as 'liaison officer' between the Chief Executive-designate and Beijing. Mr Tung has also availed himself of the services of a vice-party secretary of Shenzhen - who happens to be a Jiang confidante - to ensure direct access to the top Chinese leader. In times of emergency, of course, the SAR chief could directly call Zeng Qinghong , the director of the Central Committee General Office and head of the Jiangban. Less than three months before the handover, however, Beijing has yet to come up with ironclad, institutional mechanisms to guarantee that the Tung administration has total say in local affairs apart from those relating to foreign policy and defence. The recent controversy over the post-July 1 role of the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua (the New China News Agency) best illustrates the nebulous demarcation of power this side of the Shenzhen River. Through close aides such as Special Adviser Paul Yip Kwok-wah, Mr Tung has made it clear that the functions of Beijing's de facto mission here should be minimised after the change of sovereignty. In this latest episode of his long-running feud with Xinhua, the Chief Executive-designate has the support of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and quite a number of moderate politicians in Beijing. Senior Xinhua cadres and their allies up north, however, have conducted an aggressive lobbying campaign to preserve its turf. This is despite the fact that the Xinhua director, Zhou Nan , and the majority of the vice-directors are due to either retire or be transferred back to the mainland after the handover. Chinese sources say Xinhua recently told the Chinese leadership that it wanted to continue the following 'services' after July 1: to liaise between the SAR administration and Beijing; to liaise between 'various sectors and circles' in the SAR and Beijing; to 'look after' Chinese-funded corporations in the SAR; to determine which officials and other mainland citizens could visit or work in the SAR; and work concerning Taiwan and national reunification. Some of Mr Tung's advisers have reportedly indicated that most of these tasks should be assumed by the SAR government, and that, after the handover, the only substantial role for Xinhua would be matters relating to Taiwan and intelligence. So far, Mr Jiang and the Politburo Standing Committee have not made a ruling on this sensitive subject. Also held in suspense is the post-July 1 incarnation of the CCP's master cell in the territory, the Hong Kong Macau Work Committee. This is despite arguments by relative liberals in the Hong Kong policy establishment in Beijing that after the transition, the 'Hong Kong party committee' should be re-located north of the Hong Kong-Guangdong border. These liberal officials have contended that an influential Xinhua and CCP cell in the SAR could leave residents and foreign investors alike with the impression they are the power behind the throne.