When Tung Chee-hwa wants to discuss something with a policy secretary, he summons them up to his office for a one-on-one chat. That may sound like a perfectly sensible way of conducting business but it is markedly different from the situation that used to exist before the handover. Back then, Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang sat in on almost all meetings between former Governor Chris Patten and his policy secretaries, thus ensuring that nothing of any importance was discussed without her being present. Such subtle changes, coupled with the Chief Secretary's ultra-low profile (for instance, she has said little in public during the bird flu saga) have led many to conclude Mrs Chan has lost all her power since Mr Tung took over. Although her profile will be briefly boosted tomorrow, when she begins her first visit to Beijing since the handover, the long delays in arranging this trip have been interpreted by some as a further sign of Mrs Chan's supposed marginalisation. There are even occasional suggestions that Mrs Chan will eventually have no choice but to quit. A similarly extreme view was put forward by author Jonathan Dimbleby in The Last Governor, where he quoted one of Mr Patten's aides as predicting that 'she'll be living in Pinner' in London by the end of 1997. Such suggestions show an ignorance of Mrs Chan's character and the nature of the administration she leads. The woman who so wanted to become Chief Executive that she actively canvassed for support, and waited until it was clear there was no chance of success before announcing she would not contest the post, is unlikely to give up such ambitions anytime soon. Mrs Chan has publicly declared she does not 'envisage leaving my post before my normal retirement age'. Nor is there any realistic prospect of her being forced out. In fact, there is no normal retirement age for a Chief Secretary. Although lesser civil servants must step down when they reach 60 (in Mrs Chan's case in January 2000), her post is specifically exempted from this requirement and some previous incumbents have stayed on beyond this age. At the turn of the century, Mrs Chan will still be younger than Mr Tung is now. And it is inconceivable that the thought does not occasionally cross her mind that the Chief Executive may ask her to stay on longer, and perhaps even recommend her as his successor. Mrs Chan's wings may have been clipped since the handover, as shown by Mr Tung's direct dealings with policy secretaries, and she has clearly yet to establish a stable working relationship with her new boss. But her predecessor, Sir David Ford, surmounted the same problems after Mr Patten arrived in 1992, to remain in power for a further 18 months and move on to another post of his choosing. While her authority can be eroded to a limited extent, the fact that Mrs Chan presides over a 180,000-strong civil service gives her a formidable power-base to ward off any serious threats to her position. Executive Councillors have already discovered as much, when she saw off their efforts to rig the boundaries for the geographical constituencies and persuaded Mr Tung to back away from a birthday party for senior Exco member Sir Sze-yuen Chung. Those who say Mrs Chan is on the way out often mistake her low profile for a loss of power. In fact, she has everything to gain from keeping her head down at a time when the Government is taking so many unpopular decisions (from the electoral legislation to importation of labour) with which it is hardly in her interests to be publicly identified. A low profile also helps to avoid overshadowing Mr Tung, whose own profile is so low that it will become non-existent if his more glamorous deputy makes too frequent appearances. Far from moving to Pinner, Mrs Chan is likely to remain a low-profile but influential figure in the SAR for many years to come, so rendering the prediction of her early departure in the Dimbleby book as inaccurate as much of the rest of that volume.