The effect of Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang's interview with Newsweek magazine is that it has put Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa right on the spot. Popular belief takes her resignation warning - that she would be prepared to stand down on matters of principle - as a reflection of a clash between her and the future Special Administrative Region (SAR) chief. But this is at most a simplistic interpretation. Judging from the international media's attention following her Newsweek interview, one is more likely to conclude that the significance of her remark goes beyond her personal popularity. Only days after Mrs Chan's frank suggestion, Mr Tung was pressed by ITN Asia's correspondent on whether he would make a similar pledge. Predictably, Mr Tung said that he would not only be prepared to quit on matters of principle, he would also defend the freedoms Hong Kong enjoys today. The difference between Mr Tung's reply and Mrs Chan's pledge is clearly her more elaborated views. Mrs Chan was bold enough to say that demonstrations with slogans such as 'down with the chief executive' and 'down with the chief secretary' should be tolerated if they were not inciting people to violence. All Mr Tung said was that the right to demonstrate would be protected. And on the question of June 4 memorial protests next year, he was only prepared to reiterate that commemorative activities would only be allowed if they were peaceful and lawful. Undoubtedly, these replies left a very clear impression that Mr Tung's pledge could still be subject to interpretation. To the community, the sharp contrast between Mrs Chan's remark and Mr Tung's evasive answer, which repeats only his previous position, exposes not just the potential differences between the pair. More importantly, it casts a shadow over Hong Kong's future policy on civil liberties. This is worrying for Hong Kong and that is probably why Mrs Chan's comment has been taken so seriously. While pro-China figures may say that Mrs Chan's high-profile interview was meant to pressurise Mr Tung and demonstrates she is not loyal, what she said is something Mr Tung cannot avoid confronting. No matter how hard Mr Tung may try to persuade Hong Kong and the world that after the July 1 handover, the territory's system and lifestyle will remain unchanged for 50 years, people will not believe it until they see it happen. By spelling out what she thinks is right now, Mrs Chan has outlined the standards for how Hong Kong should be governed if the promise of 'one country, two systems' is to be upheld. To date, Mr Tung has not openly challenged Mrs Chan's remark. Nor has there been any open endorsement of her comment. Hopefully, it reflects that Mr Tung is still weighing the options. The world is watching him and Hong Kong people are looking to him to steer the territory to a better future. This is a heavy responsibility. No one has underestimated the difficulty in trying to balance the interests of the central Government and the SAR. But if Beijing is genuine about the promise of Hong Kong's system remaining unchanged and Mr Tung is determined to uphold the principle, Mrs Chan's frank remark should not be taken negatively. All she said was nothing unusual - it is in line with the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. What was unusual, though, was people's strong reaction, interpreting it with great suspicion. The content of Mrs Chan's message aside, the unusual reaction it drew should provide some food for thought for Mr Tung.