RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

For broadcast 22 June 1997

This past week, China's Foreign Minister Mr. Qian Qichen gave an interview to the South China Morning Post where he re-affirmed China's promise to stick firmly to the terms of the Joint Declaration -- and even repudiated some of his own earlier statements about what would and what would not be allowed in Hong Kong after the handover.

In his interview Mr. Qian repeatedly said that the questions of demonstrations and press freedom were matters for the SAR government -- which is entirely correct. He insisted China would practice the promised policy of non-interference in Hong Kong's internal affairs and repeated that these forms of free expression in Hong Kong would be respected by China. If "one country, two systems" means anything, it must mean that Hong Kong continues to be free and we continue doing tomorrow what we do today.

Our future Chief Executive Mr. Tung has given similar assurances. With only a week to go until the transfer of sovereignty, I propose that we take Chinese leaders and Mr. Tung at their word.

Chinese leaders and Mr. Tung say freedoms will continue unabridged. I believe that whether our freedoms continue depends even more on the people of Hong Kong than on Chinese leaders.

If we voluntarily give up some of our rights and freedoms, we have no one but ourselves to blame. And if we practice self-censorship because we believe our freedoms will be rolled back, then this will certainly be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

All Hong Kong people need to work together to keep Hong Kong free. Particularly those of us who are on the front lines: civil servants, journalists and elected leaders.

Civil servants must continue to do their jobs as they always have. If interference comes from Beijing or from Hong Kong, civil servants must resist and do so in such a way that discourages future intrusion, however well-intended. From elections to appointments to the awarding of contracts, China has pledged adopt a "hands off" policy, and Chinese leaders must not be encouraged to be involved in any aspect of local governance.

Journalists must stand together to defend press freedom and to guard against the self-censorship we know is all too prevalent today. A recent Hong Kong Journalists Association Survey found that 80 percent of Hong Kong reporters believe there is significant self-censorship in their ranks.

But I believe the most interesting recent development is the fact that leading local newspapers which experimented with being accomodationist in fact found they were losing readers to papers which continued to report the news straight. The bottom line is that the market and readers will decide what they want to read. So long as reporters continue to report the facts as they see them, there will be a market for the truth. And efforts to suppress the press freedom will fail.

In fact, self-censorship is another word for fear. If you ask yourself this question: "What would happen if I reported this sensitive story?" then you will probably not write that sensitive story. What you should be asking yourself is "I wrote a sensitive story last week -- why shouldn't I write this report now, particularly if it is important?"

For elected leaders and politicians, we have a special responsibility to speak up for those who may not have a voice. My Democratic Party colleagues and I fully intend to continue our work to promote democracy, to continue speaking out and by doing so to show the world that these freedoms are being allowed in Hong Kong.

We intend to stay in Hong Kong and contest the elections -- thereby giving Hong Kong people a real choice and making it much more obvious if the electoral playing field is tilted against us.

With the handover only days away, many people in Hong Kong and the international community are wondering whether Hong Kong people will really be able to keep our freedoms and preserve our way of life. We must show the world that it is possible to preserve freedom where it already exists.

It is often said that a society gets the government it deserves. If we fail to stand together, if we fail to continue exercising the freedoms we enjoy today -- then we will have no one to blame but ourselves, for we will have voluntarily have tied our own hands.

A Jesuit priest, Father Collins, passed away this week. At his funeral Mr. Andrew So recalled his statement that it was possible for a single individual to make a difference. Father Collins had fought for the community of those with disabilities and had himself lived out this philosophy.

Father Collins said that if a single individual lights a candle in a room full of darkness, that candle would not only chase away the darkness but could encourage others to light candles as well.

So if we all resolve to continue living freely and we all remain determined to keep our freedoms, it will be impossible to lose them.

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