President Jiang Zemin gave his verdict on Tung Chee-hwa's first term in office yesterday, praising him for admitting there had been shortcomings during his rule. 'I noted that he has made some self-criticism [in last week's speech] . . . No one is perfect. We found Mr Tung is good on the whole,' said Mr Jiang while giving his backing for him to stand for re-election as chief executive. When Mr Tung announced last Thursday that he would seek a second five-year term in March he said he had constantly reflected on how the administration could have done better and admitted there had been shortcomings. Mr Jiang was speaking before hearing a work report from Mr Tung, who is making his annual duty visit to Beijing. Asked if he had any suggestions on how Mr Tung could improve his popularity ratings in Hong Kong, the President said Mr Tung's popularity had been high and 'there is no need to do anything more'. Recent surveys have showed support for Mr Tung slipping below 50 per cent. And a Baptist University survey found only 16 per cent of respondents backed his re-election bid. Mr Jiang said: 'I studied science. I have my views regarding opinion surveys. My viewpoints are based on a number of surveys and research. I have a lot of channels to obtain information.' Challenged by a Beijing-based foreign correspondent about his popularity, Mr Tung replied: 'Go to Hong Kong. Find out for yourself. Talk to the people in the street and find out what is happening. 'That will be wonderful. I will be very happy if you do that.' Mr Tung also said last week that he hoped to see a competitor run so that people could compare their policy programmes. But Mr Jiang indicated there was nothing wrong if no other candidate came forward. 'If no one wants to come out and compete, why do you have to dig someone up to compete?' Xinhua reported that Mr Jiang had told Mr Tung he had the full confidence and support of the central authorities. 'The central authorities . . . are satisfied with his governance and will continue to give full support to his work as we did before,' Mr Jiang was quoted as saying. Under Mr Tung's leadership the SAR Government had handled well a range of major political, economic and social events and maintained stability, he said. He singled out the Government's response to the Asian financial turmoil, efforts to promote economic co-operation with the mainland, and wide contacts and exchanges with the international community. 'The evidence shows Mr Tung can pass the test of various challenges and is able to master complicated situations,' he said. Xinhua said Mr Jiang had praised Mr Tung's decision to seek re-election, saying it showed Mr Tung's commitment to Hong Kong and the 'one country, two systems' policy. 'I wish him to continue to lead the SAR Government and Hong Kong people to overcome the temporary difficulties and jointly create a better future for Hong Kong,' he said. Under Hong Kong's electoral system, the chief executive will be picked in March by an 800-member Election Committee. Speaking at a separate meeting with Mr Tung, Premier Zhu Rongji said Hong Kong would continue to play an 'important and indispensable role' in China's development in spite of the current economic woes. Beijing would study proposals on ways to boost Hong Kong's status as a centre for international finance, trade, transport, logistics and tourism. Speaking after the meetings, Mr Tung said Beijing had also 'supported in principle' a government proposal to set up a free-trade zone between the mainland and Hong Kong. The Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation would set up a working group to study the idea. 'The issue is complicated,' Mr Tung said. 'It will take time but I hope we have made good progress today.' Mr Tung said he had expressed gratitude to the Chinese leaders for their support.