The person who becomes the first Chief Executive to run Hong Kong after Britain departs in July, 1997, has an impossible job. He or she must defend the pillars that bolster Hong Kong's society, such as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free flow of information, and a strong, incorruptible civil service. That person must also have enough clout with China to convince Beijing to back off when it encroaches on Hong Kong's promised autonomy. This person must stand up for Hong Kong's right to free assembly and free speech at a time when top Chinese leaders oppose Hong Kong citizens holding demonstrations commemorating the massacre on Tiananmen Square or printing "rumors" attacking Chinese leaders. Juggling the competing interests of cosmopolitan Hong Kong and China, the new Chief Executive will be in the hottest seat in Asia.
Among the top contenders are two business leaders, two judges, and possibly a top civil servant. The 50-year-old Peter Woo, a businessman turned public servant, has already elevated the nature of the debate. He's held press conferences, laid out a platform, and opened up a campaign headquarters, forcing other candidates to follow. The spirited Hong Kong media has pushed candidates to address tough issues. What could have been a closed selection process orchestrated by Beijing has become an open discussion, Hong Kong-style.
In the end, a 150-person Preparatory Committee of mainland and Hong Kong residents handpicked by Beijing will name a Selection Committee of 400 Hong Kong citizens. By yearend, that committee will name the first Chief Executive. To guarantee Hong Kong's future, that person should keep in mind he's Hong Kong's man in Beijing and not Beijing's man in Hong Kong.