RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

For broadcast on 2 June 1996

Last week Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Director Lu Ping gave a widely reported interview on ABC TV and later, a separate interview on CNN. In his first interview, he made statements that the Democratic Party and I welcome and that virtually everyone in Hong Kong would agree with. In his second interview, he raised a lot of questions.

His remarks were most encouraging because they did not echo the hardline tone and substance of recent statements by Mr. Lu and other Chinese officials.

But in many ways, Mr. Lu Ping's interviews raised as many questions as they answered. Over the past months, rather than re-assuring Hong Kong about our future, Chinese officials have shaken confidence to the core with decisions to put an end to our elected legislature and replace it with a fully appointed so-called "provisional" Legco.

It was thus good to hear Mr. Lu say that China was not afraid of democracy and that Hong Kong political parties could continue to exist after 1997.

When asked specifically whether the Democratic Party could continue to participate in elections after 1997, Mr. Lu said "Sure, sure, why not? As long as they abide by the law, that's all. And not the Chinese law, the Hong Kong law."

And that was the part of Mr. Lu's re-assurances which was perhaps not quite so re-assuring. Mr. Lu has raised just the question many Hong Kong people are now asking: what will Hong Kong's laws be? How can there be good, predictable, fair laws when the laws will be passed by a legislature which is not elected by and accountable to Hong Kong people?

Hong Kong politicians and journalists will be dealt with "according to law." But what will the law be?

The laws today permit political parties to function freely and the press to report freely. If Beijing changes the laws via an appointed legislature, it will change Hong Kong's rule of law into something very different: rule by law -- possibly repressive laws.

Today Hong Kong's laws guarantee freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly. But Hong Kong people rightly fear that an appointed "provisional" legislature will not protect rights -- but rather take away rights. Indeed, we are already told that among the first acts of the China-appointed body will be emasculating the Bill of Rights and to re-instating numerous repressive colonial laws.

The bottom line is that without the certainty provided by elected institutions, there is no guarantee that China's appointed legislature won't change Hong Kong's laws as directed by Beijing. So we must all speak up against the appointed provisional legislature, before it is too late.

Mr. Lu also said that "The assertion that China is afraid of democracy in Hong Kong is a misunderstanding, and it is unfair. Our ultimate aim is to have universal suffrage."

Mr. Lu then blames Governor Chris Patten for the abolition of our elected legislature, claiming Britain sabotaged the through train, and thus Hong Kong people are to be deprived of representation.

Let us for a minute assume China is absolutely correct -- that the present, elected legislature must now come to an end because of British perfidy. An elected legislature is guaranteed by China to Hong Kong people in the Basic Law and the Joint Declaration.

So if the sole rationale for terminating the elected legislature is Chris Patten, then once Britain is gone on 1 July 1997, it would stand to reason that Chinese leaders would of course be holding elections in Hong Kong as soon as possible after the transfer of sovereignty. (And indeed, encouraging Hong Kong citizens to elect all 60 seats in the legislature, instead of the miserable 20 permitted by Britain). But this is not the case.

A modest proposal: If China's ultimate aim is a democratic system, then why not leave Hong Kong's existing legislature in place? The transition will surely be problematic enough without turning Hong Kong's chosen representatives out of office in full view of thousands of international journalists.

China has an opportunity to make Hong Kong after 1997 a much more democratic place than it is today under Britain. The formal decision to abolish our elected legislature and replace it with a wholly appointed rubber stamp legislature shows that China's intention is simply to control Hong Kong through repressive laws.

But there is still time to explain to Chinese leaders why this would be devastating to confidence -- both in Hong Kong and China.

For over a decade, Chinese leaders have continued to promise Hong Kong people that they will honour their commitments in the Joint Declaration and that Hong Kong people will continue to keep our rights, freedoms and way of life.

With barely a year until the transfer of sovereignty, China must begin looking forward rather than backwards. Reassurances in US television interviews must be accompanied by concrete steps in Hong Kong itself to build confidence.

Despite Mr. Lu's pledges about the Democratic Party's future and his admirable efforts to help rebuild confidence in Hong Kong, I believe the most reassuring thing of all would be for China to open dialogue with Hong Kong's elected leaders. We are ready to play our role.

One encouraging sign is the Chief Justice's on-going trip to Beijing. For the last two months, our highly-regarded judiciary has been shaken to the core by suggestions that judges might not automatically hold on to their positions. That was a clear threat to judicial independence and to the rule of law.

However, after many Hong Kong people spoke up, China has apparently altered its position. Premier Li Peng has now given our Chief Justice assurances that Hong Kong judges will not be subject to intimidation or to the threat of losing their positions.

This example shows that China can change its bottom line -- that damaging decisions can be reversed. But only if all Hong Kong people are willing to speak up.

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