RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

For broadcast 11 January 1998

So much for 1997 -- and I certainly hope everyone can have a better year in 1998!

Hong Kong now faces two serious problems -- one medical, one financial. The first one of course is the bird flu. I am not a medical man, so I won't go into detail, except to look at the way our government has been handling it -- or bungling it.

As for the financial crisis, we are very much affected by the crisis in the whole Asian region. And yet there seems to be a common thread that ties the two together. Because at the back of both of these problems lies the lack of a representative government.

Mr. Tung is nice enough man, but unfortunately he has not been elected by the people of Hong Kong. He can't really speak for the people of Hong Kong. And what is worse, he seems to be hiding himself -- to be quarantining himself from Hong Kong people, at least as far as bird flu is concerned.

The problem is that our government first tried to suppress the facts, trying to cover up the threat that the bird flu represented. Then they blamed the media for reporting it.

Well, doctors have called this 'flu the Avian Flu -- but we can call it the "Asian Flu" in the political sense. I would define the symptoms of the Asian Flu as a tendency for Asian leaders to ignore the bad and only talk about the good. And also to suppress the truth from the people for as long as possible. These are the principal weaknesses of the region's unrepresentative and undemocratic governments.

Some of our business friends do not of course mind dealing with an unrepresentative government. It was reported in the papers yesterday that there is a crisis now being faced by Hong Kong's largest domestic investment bank. And its Chief Executive Officer, according to the report, said in 1992 that: "strong government, some would call it dictatorship, delivered much better economic growth. He continued to say "The results speak for themselves." I certainly agree with his last remark.

Our financial problems are really not due to anything internal in Hong Kong. But we are affected of course by the financial crisis in many countries in this part of the world. This crisis among so many Asian countries completely exploded the myth that we Asians are some how different: that we can get along with out a democratic government -- and in fact will do better without one.

Now people are beginning to understand the links: that when government is not representative of the people, the tendency is for the government not to be accountable and not to be transparent. When things are going well, things are kept from the press and the public, but later these scandals and weaknesses are invariably revealed.

If we look at South Korea, the recent turmoil has really caused them a lot of pain, but you finally see their democratically elected President taking the right approach forward. It is painful to the people but they are taking the right steps forward. Compared to South Korea, Hong Kong has been doing much better, and many people will be thankful we are not in the same situation as South Korea.

But we should think again. South Korea has finally embarked on the right road and the international investors are returning. But are we on the right road? Do we have an accountable and representative government? No.

As we look ahead in 1998, I want the Hong Kong people to remember one thing: that we cannot just sit back and expect all the things that we have today will continue to be there without fighting for them.

We mustn't imagine that so long as the economy is all right, that we don't need democracy. The past few months have shown us that without a democratic government you cannot just rest on your laurels. Democracy and a representative government are the only long-term guarantee of a solid foundation for financial success.

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