Professor Lau Siu-kai switched from academia to government in July as head of the Central Policy Unit, helping to draft Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's 2003 policy address. He talks to our Editor-at-Large Chris Yeung Question: Has the policy address inspired confidence? Answer: There is overwhelming support for the policy direction and strategy of economic integration with the Pearl River Delta region. But there are still problems of confidence in the short term. Some people do not believe they will benefit immediately. Some middle-class people are doubtful of their ability to cope with the new development. Many subconsciously look down upon the mainland and still consider the mainlanders under-developed. Over the next few years, integration is inevitable and will eventually bring benefits. Q: Is there anything the government can do in the short term? A: In the short term, I do not think the economy will improve and help boost confidence. On the political front, there is not much we can do to significantly change the relationship between government and people. The situation will improve when people see their government has become more pragmatic and focused. Q: Critics say that Mr Tung has failed to address political issues. Is this fair comment? A: Over the past few years, there has not been much consensus on political issues. On the economic front, we see an emerging consensus on the need to go back to basics, using our advantages to help China modernise. At present, political issues are divisive. If handled well, the two issues of delta integration and fiscal deficits will bring society together and strengthen government-people relations. Q: Has the lack of confidence and faith in Mr Tung reached a crisis situation? A: I do not think we will reach that stage. Yes, there are a lot of anxieties and complaints against the government and Mr Tung. But the society is still stable. People are basically satisfied with their personal and family conditions. As long as people see progress, their confidence will gradually improve. Q: Do you anticipate a difficult year ahead with the Article 23 and budgetary deficit debates? A: The deficit issue could generate public support for the government as long as the cards are played right. Everyone looks to the government for leadership. It is a golden opportunity for the government to demonstrate leadership and work with people to solve a common problem. The basic point is that the government must practise fairness and be seen to do so. As far as I'm concerned, Article 23 is a non-issue because we are not in a situation where China feels a threat from Hong Kong and feels insecure. Q: Why has it become a big row? A: The issue has blown up because of political mistrust, residual suspicion of Beijing and the way it has been handled by both the government and opposition. I'm hopeful and optimistic about the issue. Q: Are middle-class people overreacting to reports of possible tax hikes? A: It's a misunderstanding, but I am not surprised. The bursting of property bubbles left many middle-class people in debt. Changes in the labour market made the middle class insecure. The government has to handle the middle class very gingerly. Q: What can the government do to reassure these people? A: The government should maintain stable and clear policies so that middle-class people can plan their futures. It should maintain fair competition, invest in education and help middle-class people adjust to the new economic environment. Middle-class people want to be treated fairly. They want a government that heeds their voices and allows them opportunities to influence policy-making. Q: You come from the academic world. How did you like being involved in the process of drafting the policy address? A: As an academic, I only pursue my own agenda. In government, I work as a member of the collective. There's always a need to compromise and reconcile different interests. It's a very gratifying experience. On the other hand, I have to adjust myself, restrict my individuality. Q: Is it difficult? A: Very difficult, but I would still suggest more academics take the opportunity to work in the government for a short period of time. This will greatly help academics to understand society. Q: How receptive was Mr Tung to your advice? A: Receptive enough for me to have no regrets so far about joining the government. I do not expect every suggestion I make will be accepted by the government. That is politically unrealistic.