Xu had arrived in Hong Kong in 1983, having held high office as First Secretary of the Communist Party in Jiangsu Province. Appearing slightly sinister in his trademark shaded glasses, he quickly set about laying down the law and warning Britain about adhering to the agreement providing for the transfer of the colony's sovereignty. It was widely expected that he would turn out to be just another Beijing goon, good at taking orders, unimaginative about taking initiatives. But the doubters were confounded: Xu departed from the practice of his predecessors by gradually making extensive contacts with the local business and political community.
Before his arrival NCNA officials were often invited to receptions and meetings but rarely initiated contacts themselves. Xu, with what was believed to be the personal backing of Deng Xiaoping, went further and, shortly before the Tiananmen Square massacre, made a speech hailing capitalism as one of the greatest inventions of mankind. He even started to tell Hong Kong people how he understood their fears about the Communist Party. By the time of his departure, the bogeyman from the North had become widely known as 'Uncle Tun'. Thus it was all the more devastating for China to lose its well-regarded figurehead in Hong Kong.
"At a dinner I attended a couple of years after the massacre," Vines recounts, "William Overholt, a well-known American Hong-Kong-based banker and one of the main intellectual apologists for the Chinese regime, was regaling the guests, most of whom were visiting Americans, with his well-publicized view that Asians were neither interested in democracy nor able to handle it in the unlikely event that Asian nations became democratic. I usually remain silent in the face of this sort of nonsense, in the belief that views of this kind are so far below contempt that there is little point in trying to attempt a dialogue. However, by coincidence I arrived at the dinner shortly after meeting a Chinese democracy activist who had risked his life during the 1989 protests. He, presumably, was one of those who was only showing an interest in democracy by virtue of becoming 'westernized'. I said to Mr. Overholt that I had traveled extensively around most of East Asia and had never come across a popular demonstration in favor of autocracy; on the contrary, everywhere I went I found people enthusiastic about the idea of having more accountability from their government and more freedom to express their views." (5)