International Herald Tribune, March 28, 1995

Selling an Unconsulted Future Hong Kong in America


By Martin Lee

Hong Kong ¡V Lu Ping, the top Chinese official with responsibility for Hong Kong, is on a speaking tour of six cities in the United States that will end on Thursday. Mr. Lu is in America to market China's vision for Hong Kong and reassure the American business community about the territory's future. He has himself to blame for the difficulty of his task.

As the man running the Preliminary Working Committee, Mr. Lu more than anyone else is responsible for explaining the lack of confidence in Beijing¡¦s plans shown by the people of Hong Kong and how China's solemn promises of "a legislature constituted by elections¡¨ and ¡§a high degree pf autonomy¡¨ have been shattered.

The high-powered Preliminary Working Committee was set up by Beijing to advise on and manage Hong Kong¡¦s handover to China in 1997. Mr. Lu is the first Chinese Communist Party leader to undertake such a lobbying mission in the United States.

Hong Kong people know that Beijing's hard-line plans for the territory mean the opposite of what Mr. Lu has gone to America to say. They know that the result will be a swift end to Hong Kong's freedoms, rule of law and modestly democratic system.

So while I applaud Mr. Lu¡¦s willingness to speak in public about the future of Hong Kong, the people he really needs to be reassuring are in Hong Kong. They all too rarely get an opportunity to question Chinese leaders about their future.

Despite Mr. Lu¡¦s PR exercise in America, the Chinese government continues to refuse to communicate with the people of Hong Kong and their democratically elected representatives. It has been almost a year since Mr. Lu set foot in Hong Kong.

When he did, on his last visit in May, it was by no means confidence-inspiring. He spent much of his trip dodging the press. He pointedly refused to meet the public or even to see Chris Patten, the British colonial governor. Thus I hope that Americans will not miss this rare opportunity to ask Mr. Lu questions that the people of Hong Kong would like answered by Beijing:

They want to know why Mr. Lu is touring the United States with the leaders of the unrepresentative and unpopular Preliminary Working Committee. It was set up by Beijing to punish Governor Patten for prosing modest democratic reforms. In effect, the PWC is a shadow government for the run-up to 1997. A score of recent public opinion polls indicate that Hong Kong people strongly disapprove of its performance. A survey in January by the South China Morning Post found that 70 percent of those polled did not trust the PWC to act in Hong Kong's interests.

Revelations that nearly one-third of Hong Kong PWC members hold foreign passports enabling them to leave should things go wrong after 1997 have further damaged the credibility of the Beijing-appointed group. No member of the PWC has even been democratically elected to public office. Its decision, such as the proposal to abolish Hong Kong¡¦s Bill of Rights, generally strike fear in the hearts of the people of the territory.

Citizens would like to know how Hong Kong¡¦s stability is served by overturning its entire political structure when China takes control in 1997. Beijing last year announced its intention to scarp the territory¡¦s Legislative Council and two other tiers of government in 1997. Hong Kong people will have their final chance to vote in democratic elections in September.

If the most recent elections for municipal councils in March are any guide, they will continue to vote for members of my political party, which stands for democracy and freedom. Despite, or perhaps because of, Beijing¡¦s open threats that voters should support only ¡§candidates who love China,¡¨ pro-democracy candidates have emerged victorious in Hong Kong¡¦s most recent sets of elections.

Leaders of the PWC traveling with Mr. Lu have said they will replace Hong Kong's elected Legislative Council with a ¡§provisional¡¨ legislature. It will rubber-stamp any laws that China needs to control Hong Kong. A Beijing-appointed legislature would violate even China¡¦s own constitution for Hong Kong, the Basic Law, which stipulates that all 60 members of the legislature must be elected.

Hong Kong people want to know how the rule of law in the territory and the independent judiciary can be preserved if judges are to be vetted by China and if the Court of Final Appeal, the local equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, is to be under Beijing's authority. The rule of law is Hong Kong¡¦s most prized possession. In China, the Communist Party is always above the law.

Hong Kong people would like to tell Mr. Lu and the Chinese government that actions speak louder than words. If Beijing really wants the world to have confidence in Hong Kong, the fastest way to achieve this goal is to stop threatening its rights, freedoms, and way of life.

Hong Kong's future will be determined in the next 800 days. Within the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy there is still a glimmer of hope. Recently, Li Ruihuan, a senior leader, admitted errors in the hard-line policy toward Hong Kong and appealed to his fellow leaders to handle the territory with care.

In a speech to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Mr. Li made a statement that all Hong Kong people would agree with: ¡§If you don¡¦t understand how a valuable item works, you will never be able to keep it intact for a long time.¡¨

That, of course, is Hong Kong's biggest fear for the future and the very message that the people of the territory want Mr. Lu to take away from his visit to America. I hope that Americans will make a point of explaining to Mr. Lu's delegation what Hong Kong people already know: that there is only on real way to reassure America and the world of peaceful transition and a stable future for Hong Kong ¡V democracy.

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