RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

For broadcast on 4 August 1996

On Monday, Lee Lai San won Hong Kong's first -- and last -- gold at the Atlanta Olympics. San San's gold proves to the world that Hong Kong people are capable of achieving great things on the international stage -- if only we preserve and dare to do so.

The message of San San's victory will continue to apply long after the Olympics have drawn to a close: that we must follow our aspirations, presevere in our goals and not give up -- even in the face of defeat or seemingly insurmountable setbacks.

How can San San's lesson be applied to our daily situation in Hong Kong? Today many people already accept the end of our elected legislature and that an appointed Provisional Legislature is a fait accompli. These people believe that there is no use in fighting for what we were promised in the 1984 Joint Declaration because China will do what it wants to do in Hong Kong.

These people have accepted defeat even before the game has begun.

Other people, some members of the Preparatory Committee and even members of the international community, do recognise the damage an appointed legislature can do -- both to Hong Kong's system and to Hong Kong's international reputation. They have staked out what they believe to be a middle ground, saying that if China is going to put in place an appointed "legislature," that the appointed body should last for only a short a time and that elections under the new China-approved laws should be held sooner rather than later, to restrict the damage a rubber stamp legislature can do.

This proposal has appeal for some because -- at least on the face of things -- would seem to limit the damage an appointed legislature will do in Hong Kong. This approach is terribly flawed, however, because in essence it tells China that it is okay to break the rules. In other words, China can break the Joint Declaration -- but preferably for as short a time as possible. And of course, once you have accepted an appointed legislature, it is impossible to limit the damage.

To make another sports analogy: what if China insisted that in soccer, they had the right to play soccer with their hands -- just once? If we let Beijing play soccer using their hands once, what incentive does China ever have to return to playing only with their feet, as all other teams do?

The Joint Declaration promises that Hong Kong will have a "legislature constituted by elections" -- not a legislature constituted by appointment. Once China has moved the goalposts in such a fundamental way by setting up an appointed legislature, there is the very real possibility Hong Kong will not have genuine elections ever again.

Those who advance the "accept the appointed legislature, but keep its tenure short" argument accept that Beijing can change agreed-upon rules in the middle of the game.

But in reality, China's establishment of an appointed legislature is not a fait accompli -- or in Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen's own metaphor, the rice is not yet cooked. But if we in Hong Kong and the international community treat an appointed legislature as a fact, it soon will be.

However, There are still many people in Hong Kong who have not accepted defeat. They do not agree that the Joint Declaration is a dead letter and that the abolition of our elected legislature is a done deal. Indeed, some Hong Kong people are even now proving that it is possible to have dialogue with China on contentious issues without abandoning principle.

The Hong Kong Bar Association has only just returned from a recent visit to Beijing. The Bar delegation, led by Chairman Gladys Li, met with the top tier of officials in China, including the National People's Congress and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. The purpose of the meetings was to make a case that China would damage Hong Kong and our rule of law if Beijing carried through with a number of recent decisions. The Bar argued against appointing a rubber stamp legislature, against emasculating the Bill of Rights, against re-instating repressive colonial laws, and in favour of continued application of the International Human Rights Covenants to Hong Kong after 1997.

Some in Hong Kong now accuse the Democratic Party of being inflexible, of refusing to accept reality, of deliberately provoking China by refusing to accept an appointed legislature. But we believe we were elected to stand firm on matters of principle -- not to abandon the field in the middle of the game.

We believe China's bottom line on abolishing the sitting elected legislature can change -- but only if China is pushed and encouraged to do so.

Indeed, San San's gold medal came only after a number of demoralising defeats. The clear lesson for Hong Kong of our Olympic achievement is that Hong Kong people can win in the end, against great odds and even after defeat. So long as we continue fighting for our system, we have not yet lost.

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