Perhaps the Chief Executive was only stating the obvious - that Beijing would not let the organisers of the June 4 vigil enter the mainland so long as they continued to honour the memory of the dead of Tiananmen Square. Perhaps, in the end, the two versions of what Tung Chee-hwa said to Szeto Wah are one and the same: in advocating the dropping of the baggage of history, Mr Tung was, in fact, asking his luncheon guest to halt the Victoria Park vigils. If so, he should have known that he was asking the impossible. The idea of Mr Szeto giving up the June 4 memorial in exchange for a visit to Beijing beggars belief. But, given his well-known position on the issue, it would have been equally astounding if the Chief Executive had said that he was all in favour of the vigils and would go to bat on this score with the central Government. Whatever one thinks of his position, there was nothing scandalous in Mr Tung making his views known. Political leaders are constantly embroiled in disputes with those who hold opposite opinions. But the Chief Executive has a specific problem in reconciling two different aspects of his job. On the one hand he is the most powerful figure in a political system which, for all its faults, retains pluralistic debate. The pro-democracy groups may have found the experience of the past two years deeply disenchanting. But, as the row over what Mr Tung said to Mr Szeto has demonstrated, the Government cannot expect to command automatic deference and obedience from the community and its elected representatives. So, however much this may be against his nature, Mr Tung is forced to fight his corner. To that extent, he is a partisan politician at the head of an administration that has to answer its critics, even if it knows that executive power will always win the day. But the Chief Executive also clearly hankers for a situation in which he could assume a role more like that of a head of state, floating above everyday politics and painting a broad canvas as in his vision of Hong Kong as a world city. In the United States, presidents have to fulfil both roles - up to their necks in the politics of dealing with Congress and of winning elections while embodying the republic in their transient persons. This is a trick which, not surprisingly after only two years in office, the Chief Executive has yet to learn. On the one hand, the administration can reflect a view of itself as being above politics - inaccessible, arrogant and slow to react. But then it comes down to earth with a bang and trades barbs with its opponents. The snag is that, when that happens, Mr Tung lacks the firewalls and defences he desperately needs, including a political party of his own. As a result, he can all too easily be wrong-footed. Too often, the administration's reactive pattern is confused. Too frequently, the desire to avoid any risk of giving offence to Beijing appears to take priority over defending the interests of Hong Kong and its people. The way in which the Policy Address, with its important environmental message, was immediately shunted into the background by the row over the June 4 vigil is a striking case of how difficult the Government finds it to set the agenda and to run with it. The high ground of last Wednesday's speech was abandoned within 24 hours - and it was Mr Tung who opened the the way to the disclosures about his conversation with Mr Szeto. The Chief Executive may be saddled with an impossible job. But he needs to be able to recognise a minefield when he sees one. In his broader role, he should know the need to steer clear of such explosions. But, if he persists in walking into the line of fire, he cannot be surprised if he suffers collateral damage which diminishes the superior status of his office.