LLOYD Bentsen, urbane United States Treasury Secretary, appeared to have a silver tongue to match his silver hair. ''Mrs Chan,'' he said as Hong Kong's Chief Secretary entered his executive office on Wednesday. ''Your reputation precedes you, and you live up to it.'' Anson Chan, clad in another pristine cheongsam-and-business jacket combination, then sat down for the kind of meeting that is commonly called ''constructive.'' The theme was China, and Mrs Chan's wish that the US drop its Most Favoured Nation link to human rights, and only time will tell whether she got her point across. But Mr Bentsen's effusive compliments, spiced with a little Texas charm, conveyed at least one vital message: in Washington, where name recognition is at least as important as what you have to say, Mrs Chan had arrived. Throughout a week of high-level meetings, culminating in an audience with Vice-President Al Gore, the visitor from Hong Kong had won the same respect: her mixture of Lane Crawford presentability and steely efficiency appeared to go down well at every venue, and even Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, as far from Mrs Chan's MFN position as anyone she met all week, took to her from the word go. A greater contrast with last year's visitor Chris Patten would be harder to find; one, the unpredictable, instinctive politician with a keen ear for the soundbite; the other, a civil servant through and through, pragmatic and cautious. Yet both appear to have played the right sort of game to win new friends in the American capital. It is not inconceivable that the office of Mr Gore, who had pulled out of the original Tuesday meeting for scheduling reasons, then took soundings as to whether Mrs Chan was worth seeing on Friday: Washington is that kind of place. Whatever, in a full week of Nixon, Bosnia and South Africa, it transpired that a photo call with the presentable Chief Secretary was worth half an hour of the Vice-President's time. THE real substance of the visit - pushing the unconditional renewal line on MFN plus some general Hong Kong PR - is impossible to quantify. Mrs Chan herself admitted that the territory's role in President Clinton's MFN decision this year is not as important as in previous Junes. And cutting through the rather bland bureau-speak of Mrs Chan's media briefings, it was hard to tell whether the meetings with figures such as Mr Bentsen, Acting Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, senior economics adviser Robert Rubin, Senate leader George Mitchell and House Speaker Tom Foley differed in any shape or form from one another. Mrs Chan certainly left the capital with a sobering feeling that the Clinton team was going to play hardball to the very last pitch with the Chinese Government, Hong Kong's pleas notwithstanding. But in terms of playing the Washington game, her trip was a dramatic success. It was a classic example of the territory putting together an orchestrated strategy to seek out the right people, lobby for meetings, and apply persuasion until those meetings were secured; and then making sure a whole week's worth of flesh-pressing went by without any bruises. It was a strategy that involved hundreds of man hours in Washington, New York and Hong Kong, and many times more dollars. The trip had its origins around four months ago, when a decision was made that as Governor Patten could not hope to top last year's Washington visit - when he won strong support from Mr Clinton - then Mrs Chan should play the annual MFN messanger. Apart from her bureaucratic skills, her advantages were that as a female and the first ethnic Chinese in the job, she was utterly unlike the mostly colonial, male characters the US was used to seeing from the territory. According to a Government official involved in the planning, such a trip has to have three elements: access to the important decision-makers; events where the Hong Kong message gets a wider audience; and plenty of media coverage. The Hong Kong office in Washington promptly formed a task force to plan the trip, under the guidance of Minister for Economics and Trade Peter Lo, a veteran with ten years in the capital; and two trade officials, Patrick Lau and Stella Lee. Using his contacts, Mr Lo drew up a list of potential candidates for meetings, and asked private lobbying firms to refine it. Hong Kong retains five of them in Washington, paying out some HK$12 million annually. Hong Kong used its lobbying power in a classic manner; in one firm, Duffy Wall, individual executives were used to target specific figures they knew personally, including congressmen and officials. For example, one was an old college chum of one of the congressmen visited, Dave McMurdy; while another had an Arkansas background that was exploited in setting up the White House meetings. In the Congressional visits, the lobbyist in question would even go to the point of tagging along. According to a member of the delegation, such is the lobbyists' importance to the process that Mrs Chan's first planning meeting after arriving in Washington was a Sunday morning breakfast with the lobbying team. It was this briefing, which provided candid advice on the personalities and their positions, which ''set the tone for the week'', he said. While the list of functions was being drawn up by Mr Lo, it was being periodically sent back to Hong Kong for approval. Key figures in the territory formed a task force to scheme the visit - including Trade Secretary Brian Chau, and Deputy Information Co-ordinator Kerry McGlynn and Director-General of Trade Tony Miller, both of whom joined the delegation. Back in Washington, Mr Lo and Commissioner Barrie Wiggham were also putting together the second strand of the strategy - arranging lunches and dinners where the Chan message would be spread to the second tier of Washingtonians - the think-tanks, experts and businessmen whose voice can make a difference in the arena of China. There was a breakfast with the Carnegie Endowment, a Wiggham-hosted lunch at the Sheraton Carlton, and another lunch with one of the MFN lobby's most valuable allies, the US-China Business Council. An impressive array of flesh would be pressed over the wine and cheese: diplomats, former administration officials, the cream of Sinologists, congressional staffers. The cliche of your average think-tanker being male, balding, over 50 and out of a normal day job is not miles from the truth; however, these are just the kind of people likely to be sitting next to a senior White House official at dinner just hours after you've lobbied them at lunch. Mrs Chan had another secret ally - one of Washington's most fertile suppliers of influential friends, Leo Daly. A wealthy architect and design consultant who years ago befriended Mrs Chan in Hong Kong, where he has an office, he arranged two very private dinners during the visit where she could make important contacts away from the media glare. Mr Daly was modest about his role and said he did not want to take any publicity away from his friend. ''I just tried to be as helpful as I can. I do know know a lot of people. It's something that's gone on for generations.'' The third part of the strategy concentrated on getting media coverage. Hong Kong media - who were ferried around from meeting to meeting in a hired van - play a totally different role from that of the Americans. As one official put it, their daily flow of copy to the territory served a useful purpose: ''To show the taxpayer back home that we are pressing the right kind of flesh and the pennies are being well spent.'' With Legco's resident public spending watchdog, Emily Lau, presumably appeased, the US media were engaged to push the pro-MFN message in the States. According to an executive on the Washington Post, which held an ''editorial board'' to be briefed by Mrs Chan on Hong Kong and China issues, it was an effective campaign. ''It was a very useful opportunity to hear her views. As we get closer to '97 it's going to be a much bigger story,'' he said. Publications including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Time and US News were also given the Hong Kong treatment. Television was to prove much more elusive. In a week crammed with news, the only US TV appearance secured was on CNN's Business Asia, which is not shown domestically. The delegation did, however, hire a crew and producer to put together its own PR video item on the Chan visit, which would later be offered to stations around the country. Her National Press Club speech was also available on cable TV. EVEN if Mrs Chan manages to get by with the press, her widespread use of robotic phraseology betrays an uneasiness with doing anything other than sticking to the script. But while the daily routine of ''they listened attentively,'' and ''I had an opportunity to put forward Hong Kong's view'' risked turning off the Hong Kong media by the second day, Mr McGlynn was doing an energetic job keeping interest flowing. The potential disaster of the Richard Nixon day of mourning on Wednesday was turned around to good use, and cajoled into possible news angles as to how the schedule was having to be rearranged. Not a little massaging appeared to be going on with the uncertainty over the Gore visit. Although the delegation had word on Tuesday night that the Vice-President would be available on Friday, the information was held back until late Wednesday, so Mrs Chan could announce it at a mini-press conference. The keynote National Press Club speech was also cleverly massaged for extra effect. On Sunday, Mr McGlynn and Tony Miller had a look at a draft speech originally penned by Political Adviser Bob Peirce in Hong Kong. Mr McGlynn added a couple of quips while Mr Miller decided at the last minute to add in the line about the idea of partial MFN renewal being a ''delusion.'' It was the topicality of this angle, together with the strength of language, which set the tone for Mrs Chan's week. Senator Mitchell, commenting wryly on the ''delusion'' phrase the day after, said: ''It would not be the first time someone has disagreed with a proposal of mine.'' Once the schedule was confirmed, the Hong Kong team was up all hours making it stay together. Advance missions all over town were made before Mrs Chan's arrival, to make sure her stretch Cadillac (with the suitably VIP tinted-window look), the follow-up limo and the media van could get from A to B in time and be allowed to park once they'd got there. Each day began at 6 am, when staff would be awoken at the hotel with calls from Hong Kong from the likes of Governor Patten's spokesman Mike Hanson, keeping Mrs Chan in touch with what was going on in the territory - not least what the media were saying about her. Mrs Chan then held a meeting to go over the day before setting out. One official confessed that they feared that two major Hong Kong stories - the Alex Tsui ICAC hearing and the Whitehead tear gas fiasco - would be picked up in the US and overshadow the trip. As it turned out, she was allowed to keep the focus firmly on MFN. If Mrs Chan gave a seemingly faultless performance in her non-stop schedule of speaking, cajoling and flesh-pressing, she was able to enjoy the luxury of a ready-made platform. For Peter Lo, who is now heading off to the Brussels mission, it was the crowning moment in a long history of arranging visits to Washington - a town where there's far more to the game than merely turning up.