CHIEF Executive Tung Chee-hwa's diplomatic skills were stretched to the limit last week as he toured Australia and New Zealand. At the Asia 2000 summit in Auckland, the elastic seems to have given altogether. He was asked if he knew the People's Liberation Army were hiring New Zealand rugby coaches - and did he think the Chinese aimed to become a force in rugby. In that case, he said, they should get coaches from Fiji. Fiji won the Sevens this year, it is true. But hardly the most tactful thing to say in New Zealand, now was it? Hong Kong Press Free: It's Official. Or at least that's what we learn from the Freedom Forum, the American foundation dedicated to 'free press, free speech, free spirit'. To discover if self-censorship was as big a problem after the handover as some claimed in the last period of British rule, the Forum's delegation visited Hong Kong. It grilled newspaper editors and journalists, and its conclusions have now reached us via its website, after a meeting between the its founder, Allen H Neuharth, and Guo Chaoren, the president of Xinhua. China, Mr Neuharth noted, had 'admirably' kept its promise to preserve Hong Kong freedoms. 'Neuharth noted that before the handover of Hong Kong to China a year ago, critics said that . . . some freedoms, including freedom of the press, would be jeopardised,' the report continued. ' 'Just the opposite has happened,' Neuharth said. 'Freedoms there are flourishing, and Beijing has kept its promise of one country, two systems. ' 'I think people in the US and around the world admire China for that.' ' Mr Neuharth went on to tell Mr Guo that he thought the row over whether President Bill Clinton should go to Tiananmen Square on his forthcoming visit to China was 'silly'. The website story, after noting that Tiananmen was 'where an estimated 700-800 pro-democracy students were killed by the Chinese military on June 4, 1989', went on to explain the Forum founder's thinking. 'He noted that the Great Hall of the People, where the reception will take place, actually is across a busy street from Tiananmen Square. ' 'The press does not always tell a fair story,' Neuharth told Guo.' Quite - and unlike Xinhua, of course. Now we finally understand how Mr Tung came to contradict his own Financial Secretary with his May 26 warning of negative first-quarter growth. The last anyone had heard from Donald Tsang Yam-kuen on the subject was his statement, the week before, that he had no reason to alter the official 3.5 per cent growth forecast. It seems Mr Tung was blurting out of turn. The Secretary for Financial Services, Rafael Hui Si-yan, explained that, under the local version of IMF rules, secretaries and the like were only allowed to see growth figures three days before publication. The official announcement came on May 29. Mr Tsang hadn't even seen the figures when he spoke of 3.5. Blame the IMF. Or maybe we don't understand. Mr Tung didn't give figures. Mr Tsang did. He might not have known the details. But he would have known the trend, wouldn't he?