WITH the election of high-profile pro-China figures to the General Chamber of Commerce general committee, Beijing has immeasurably strengthened its influence over the Hongkong business community and its ability to put pressure on the Government. It is true that almost all major businesses in Hongkong have links with China. It is also true that, despite the presence of such liberals as Mr Jimmy McGregor and Jardine Matheson director Mr Martin Barrow, most of the chamber's heavy hitters have been in the conservative camp. The committee has rarely been noted for its commitment to greater democracy in Hongkong. However, the significance of an election in which a director of Hongkong's most famous hong, Jardines, is among those ousted, only to be replaced by a senior Chinese cadre and members of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, will be lost on no one. A trend towards increased mainland influence in business is inevitable at such a late stage in the transition to Chinese rule. The more understanding that mainland officials and businessmen have of Hongkong, the better are the chances that the territory will be able to maintain its capitalist system after 1997. However, the large number of proxy votes will lead some to believe that a hidden hand was behind the decisive pro-China victory. This may smack more of sour grapes from those who were less organised in their election bids, rather than due recognition that one side conducted a better co-ordinated campaign. The election was democratic; members have had their say. The task now is for the chamber's committee to start working with its diverse membership in continuing to promote Hongkong's economic interests. This is especially important during a year when critical trade issues are being discussed, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and, of course, China's Most Favoured Nation trade status. This could present the chamber's new committee with its first dilemma: whether the presence of pro-China committee members will send mixed messages to the international community, particularly the United States. Will the territory's leading business lobby be perceived overseas as fighting for the interests of China or Hongkong? The committee's handling of this question will be a litmus test of where its real interests lie.