RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

For broadcast on 15 March 1998

Mr. Xu Simin's recent inappropriate remarks about RTHK trigger fears not only about the future of press freedom here in Hong Kong, but also remind us of the temptations of inviting mainland interference of Hong Kong affairs.

According to Mr. Xu himself, he told our Chief Executive, Mr. Tung, three times that he should keep RTHK under control. He said Mr. Tung's response to him was: "slowly, slowly." When Mr. Tung was asked expressly about this by the press later the same day, he did not deny having said "slowly, slowly" to Mr. Xu. He merely said there had, "been a lot of comments about RTHK and that while freedom of speech is important, it is also important for government policies to be positively presented."

Presumably, Mr. Tung believes RTHK is a government station, and therefore has the obligation only to present government policies positively. However, surveys conducted here in Hong Kong show that Hong Kong people know the difference between a government station and a public broadcaster, paid for by taxpayers and thus accountable to the public -- not the government.

I think full marks should go to Mrs. Anson Chan, who on the same day as Mr. Xu's remarks responded that: "The place for criticising the government is surely in Hong Kong and not in the Mainland." To comment on a Hong Kong government department while in the Mainland clearly gives the community here the wrong impression that there is an attempt to invite the central government to interfere in the affairs of the SAR.

Anson Chan's remarks were actually endorsed in Beijing. Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee head Li Ruihuan said: "Hong Kong affairs should not be discussed much now that doubts about the 'one country, two systems' policy have been dispelled." He went on to say, effectively, that if you want to help, you should be careful not to make it worse for the people concerned.

Subsequently, both President Jiang Zemin and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen made similar remarks about the importance of the "two systems." Thus it is very clear that as far as the Chinese leaders are concerned, "the one country" is never in doubt. We all know that Hong Kong is now part of China and no one in Hong Kong has advocated the independence of Hong Kong, or has made any attempt whatsoever to turn Hong Kong into a place of subversion.

Regrettably, Mr. Tung only responded to the RTHK crisis at the airport on his way back to Hong Kong from Beijing. We also regret that it appears he only spoke out after being re-assured by the Chinese leaders that it would be safe for him to say these things.

Yet Mr. Tung spoiled this response on the following day at the Kai Tak Airport before leaving for Germany, when he stated that "Hong Kong will not be a base of subversion," and then further said while he was in Germany that a subversion law would be introduced to the legislature after our elections in May. However, since there is no indication that Chinese leaders made any mention of subversion, why is it necessary for Mr. Tung to do so?

A lot of people in Hong Kong found the remarks of Mr. Tung on RTHK and subversion quite disturbing. Among those questions I think the public has for Mr. Tung to answer are:

First, what is Mr. Tung's actual position on RTHK's editorial independence? Could it be that he does have an agenda of controlling RTHK -- and he felt that Mr. Xu actually spoke too soon? Or could it be that Mr. Tung was just being indecisive and was being pushed into taking position which he perhaps later regretted? This would display a clear lack of leadership.

Whatever the case, I think we should all very much thank Mr. Xu for having uttered these words in Beijing -- because they engendered a very useful debate here in Hong Kong. I was extremely happy about the great response and total unison in how the Hong Kong people and the local press dealt with this matter. I hope we will all continue to be vigilant because the protection of our freedoms is a duty we all have if we want those freedoms we treasure to continue.

But lastly, I think we must all realise -- particularly Mr. Tung -- that the "one country, two systems" policy can only work if we have a leader who absolutely believes in it -- and who does't need to be reminded of it by the leaders in Beijing!

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