SCMP ; January 9, 2003 It is now clear there were good reasons for his minders to be very serious about dousing expectations beforehand. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's new-style policy address, which was virtually devoid of new policy initiatives, certainly sounded uninspiring. The only high point of his hour-long speech came toward the end, when he announced that he and his ministers would take a 10 per cent pay cut from April to demonstrate his team's determination to share the hard times with the community. Apart from being a political gesture, the move could be seen as a way of putting pressure on civil service unions to come around to accepting much-needed salary reductions. A general recruitment freeze for the civil service, the implementation of a second voluntary retirement scheme and the pledge to further reduce the size of the civil service by 10 per cent by 2006-07 are aimed at putting the administration in a better position to win the community over to accept a new land departure tax and other increases in fees and charges. These are necessary measures to address a growing fiscal deficit that can be plugged only by a full economic recovery. Whatever emotions the unprecedented move might have whipped up among the audience, however, quickly faded as Mr Tung returned to the serious business of spelling out his analysis of the tough challenges facing Hong Kong, an assessment that was basically a rephrasing of what he said in past addresses. The pay cut that he and his team are taking could also be seen as an acknowledgement of the fact that tough times are going to be with us for some time and there is not much the government can do to end them any time soon. Grandiose plans in his past five addresses notwithstanding, the economy has continued to dip, principally because it takes time to rectify its deep-seated structural problems. This process is one that the government could alter, but not fundamentally change. Rather than an attempt to make the speech sound more like a State of the Union address, the change of style also reflects the realisation that the government has limited power in bucking the bigger economic forces that are impacting on Hong Kong, such as the deflationary spiral sparked by the bursting of the property market in 1997, globalisation and the emergence of the mainland economy as a powerhouse in the region. Hong Kong stands to benefit from the mainland's growing economic strength, but only if it can successfully evolve, in Mr Tung's words, from its traditional role as an intermediary to a major hub connecting the mainland and the international market. That calls for the further integration of Hong Kong with the mainland, principally the Pearl River Delta, a theme that Mr Tung has harped on for years. The plans to build a bridge to link Hong Kong with the western side of the delta and a high-speed train to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, to admit more mainland professionals and tourists, and extend border crossing hours are all steps in that direction. One unifying feature of these measures is that their implementation hinges on the approval of the central and local governments at various levels. It belies the fact that Hong Kong's future economic growth critically depends on support and co-operation from its closest neighbouring jurisdictions and far away Beijing. And before we have their blessings, which will not come easy, Hong Kong had better keep mum about them. * This is an extract from the January 9 editorial. Read the SCMP for the full text. Glossary douse (v) to put out (a fire usually) with water; to stamp out devoid (adj) lacking; empty gesture (n) movement to convey meaning or a message come around to (phrasal v) to start to accept something that one did not agree with before plug (v) to stop (a problem) spell out (phrasal v) to explain very clearly deep-seated (adj) deeply rooted; firmly held hinge (v) to be dependent on or joined to something else keep mum (v) to stay slilent about something Discussion points - Did Mr Tung's policy address shed any light on issues that interest you. If so, what are they? - Get a copy of the policy address, or the January 9 issue of the SCMP. Summarise the government's blueprint for education. Do you think these plans will help provide a better learning environment in Hong Kong? Give reasons.