Having faced a grilling over the presence of Tung Chee-hwa at a reception on Tuesday, Federation of Trade Unions chairman Cheng Yiu-tong has urged critics to consider the situation with an 'ordinary heart'. The Chief Executive, Mr Cheng said, had also turned up at the powerful left-wing union's Labour Day reception last year. His presence this year, therefore, should come as no shock. Yet the veteran unionist admitted the high acclaim bestowed on the work of the FTU by Mr Tung in his unexpected speech came as a pleasant surprise. 'We understand that he was not prepared to speak. Of course, we'd like him to say something.' But when he did, Mr Cheng added, it was obvious that Mr Tung's remarks were not made off the cuff. In a brief speech that carried a clear message, Mr Tung said: 'May I represent the whole Hong Kong SAR Government to express our gratitude for the enormous contributions and efforts made by the FTU without a word in the past 50 years.' The positive affirmation of the role of the FTU, as Mr Cheng observed, reflected the fundamental change in the political landscape as well as the new partnership between the union and the Tung administration. Mr Cheng recalled: 'For obvious reasons, we were discriminated [against] by the British Hong Kong Government in the past. I was a Legco member. Ah Shek [Lau Chin-shek] was also a Legco member. Whenever he wanted to see [Governor Chris] Patten, he could always get a time slot. But when I asked for a meeting, he never bothered to entertain us.' Formed 50 years ago, the FTU - which now claims to have a membership of 270,000 - had been one of the major strongholds of pro-China forces in the territory. It played a controversial role in the 1967 riots and was viewed with scepticism by the British administration. After the signing of the Joint Declaration in 1984, the powerful union broached limited participation in the political establishment through the first indirect elections to the Legislative Council in 1985. Leaders of the pro-China forces, however, were never able to take up key positions in the corridors of power before July 1. The appointment by Mr Tung of an FTU vice-chairman, Tam Yiu-chung, to sit on the Executive Council symbolised the new ties between the SAR Government and the traditional 'pro-China forces'. In an editorial on Wednesday, Wen Wei Po said: 'The confrontational style of the colonial rule has to be changed now. Hong Kong compatriots are masters of Hong Kong. Workers and the masses are also one of the masters. The principle of work of the FTU will have to change. 'The SAR Government is the people of Hong Kong's own government. We should support, co-operate, monitor, criticise and facilitate it,' the paper said. Rounding up an election forum yesterday, the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), Tsang Yok-sing, gave a similar view on the new positioning of the fledgling political party. 'We will monitor the Government. But we will not deliberately attack the Government in order to win votes. We are sincerely doing concrete things for Hong Kong,' he said. Instrumental to Chinese sovereignty in the Sino-British struggle of the transitional period, local pro-China forces, including the FTU and the DAB, have begun to redefine their new role in the SAR. As the resumption of sovereignty and a smooth handover have become history, the future agenda boils down to the question of how to make the policy of 'one country, two systems' work. Contrary to the 'we-they' relationship with the pre-handover administration, the pro-China forces have emerged into what analysts see as the most reliable supporters of the Tung leadership. In the words of critics, the pro-China figures are 'giving their support [to the Government] on major issues while making criticism on minor matters'. Mr Cheng said they were aware of the demands on them from the SAR Government. 'As social stability is of great significance, they hope to establish a partnership relationship with us. On the whole, we are supportive of the Government. It's now Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, we have adopted a co-operative and supportive attitude. 'On the other hand, our support is not unconditional. We still look at specific policies to see whether they are in line with the Basic Law, serving the interest of workers,' the FTU chief said. He added: 'It is different from the past. In the past, we had no hesitation in putting up a fight with the Government when we found something wrong. 'But now there is much more room for frank dialogue and discussion on differences over policies.' The more conciliatory approach of the pro-China forces is clearly what Mr Tung wants to see as part of the new political culture. According to Wen Wei Po, disagreements between employers and employees do not necessarily have to be confrontational. Confrontational tactics adopted by Western trade unions are not good for Hong Kong. Compromise and a harmonious industrial relationship will lead to a 'win-win' situation. 'A good relationship between unions and the Government is conducive to social harmony and effective government . . . [and] a reasonable distribution of resources. This is progress in civilisation. This is a new SAR culture,' it said. Faced with worsening unemployment and economic recession, the Tung administration is bracing for a much more difficult time ahead after the first Legislative Council is elected. Although the small 'l' liberal force is unlikely to hold more than one-third of seats in the first Legco, the Government is set to face more pressure from political forces on economic and livelihood issues. The fact that the second Legco polls will be held in 2000 also means political parties and their members in the Legco will turn the legislature into their campaign forum. Indications are that the first Legco will be a fragmented one. No single party will be able to take a majority, not even one-third, of the seats. The Democrats are expected to get around 13 seats, the Liberal Party about 12. Ten seats are likely to be gained by DAB members, two of whom are also leaders of the FTU. The union has another two of the functional constituency seats virtually secured. The Hong Kong Progressive Alliance should be able to win about six seats. Taken as a whole, the two major pro-China parties and the FTU will form a loose coalition with about 18 votes in the new Legco. It might not be as comfortable a margin as Mr Tung would like to see. But it is a significant and reliable force that the Tung administration can count on in the bumpy months ahead.