HONG KONG -- Almost two years ago, on July 1, 2003, well over half a million people marched through the streets of Hong Kong to protest against a national-security bill that they feared threatened their rights and freedoms. The massive demonstration shook the Hong Kong government to its foundations and was followed by the shelving of the bill and the resignation of two principal officials.

The Chinese government, too, was shocked. For six years, Chinese leaders had relied on Tung Chee-hwa, the territory's chief executive since its reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, to run Hong Kong and to keep it stable and prosperous. They had implicit trust in Tung, who had been chosen by then-President Jiang Zemin.

The protest led Chinese leaders to take a new look at Hong Kong and the way it was being handled. Vice President Zeng Qinghong was put in charge. To ascertain just what the problems were, large numbers of investigators were dispatched to the territory, and reports compiled for the leadership. The upshot was that the central government decided that it had to take a more hands-on approach where Hong Kong was concerned but to do so in a subtle fashion if possible.