South China Morning Post, May 15, 2001

Just a look, Mr. Jiang


By Martin Lee

Clearly, the Government is desperately trying to promote Hong Kong. They just spent $9 million to design and develop a logo to represent the SAR as "Asia's world city" and helped secure a major international conference, the recent Fortune Global Forum. In light of these PR attempts, I am baffled that the Governments of both the SAR and the Mainland bungled a prime opportunity to prove to the world that Hong Kong truly is a "world-class city," especially when the eyes of the world were on us, waiting to see how the Government would handle the Falun Gong protesters during President Jiang Zemin's visit.

The President missed a golden opportunity to prove "One Country, Two Systems" thrives in Hong Kong. It astounds me that his advisers did not allow him to seize this moment to truly make a lasting impression on not just the Hong Kong people, but also the whole world. While the words from Mr. Jiang's speech were played over the airwaves, and no doubt absorbed by many people, I believe a far more poignant act should have taken place that would have proved the Mainland's faith in "One Country, Two Systems."

Just imagine if the Hong Kong Government had been more confident and did not, as usual, second-guess the Beijing leaders. In such a scenario, Falun Gong practitioners would have entered Hong Kong from around the world to conduct their silent protests by breathing and exercising in yellow t-shirts. The Government would not be in the embarrassing situation it is in now by trying to do the impossible - that is, convince the consulates of the United States, Britain and Australia that they do not have a blacklist of their citizens who are Falun Gong practitioners. How easily all this could have been avoided.

This idea is not a new one. Something similar was suggested by some Hong Kong people to the Beijing leaders concerning protests that took place during the 1997 hand-over. Unfortunately this brilliant vision, an acknowledgement that "One Country Two Systems" truly exists, was not taken up either in 1997 or last week.

If only the Hong Kong Government could have allowed all Falun Gong followers into the SAR - where they would have stayed in our hotels, dined in our restaurants and patronised our shops. Then when the conference commenced, the practitioners and other protestors could have gathered in a place close enough to the Convention and Exhibition Centre to be seen, but at a reasonable distance so as not to disturb.

Before entering the Convention Centre to deliver his keynote speech, Mr. Jiang could then have exited from his official car and turned to acknowledge a sea of yellow t-shirts-wearing Falun Gong followers. Under this scenario, Mr. Jiang would have smiled and then turned back to continue on his way.

Such an image of Mr. Jiang's silent acknowledgement of the Falun Gong would have spoken volumes for the respect Beijing leaders have for Hong Kong and the "One Country, Two Systems" policy. All over the world, press outlets would have shown the President's smile against a backdrop of yellow. If such an event had occurred, all the news coming out of Hong Kong last week would have been positive. CNN, CNBC, the BBC, would have played those few seconds repeatedly on TVs around the world, proving that Hong Kong is truly autonomous, truly "Asia's world city". This is the image the Hong Kong people want of their home. This is a meaningful display that cannot be bought.

In a few weeks, people will move on from the events of the Fortune Forum and eventually many will forget that it even took place. The participants will have come and gone. So what will people remember? What will they be reminded of about Hong Kong? A city where freedom thrives? Or a city where freedom is suppressed?

After all, is not the whole point of these conferences to boost Hong Kong as an international, cosmopolitan capital? Instead, the pictures seen on the television and in the newspapers are of demonstrators and police struggling. What a shame.

Our city will get the chance to host another major conference again, and it is not too late for the Government to do it right next time. But that can only come about if our Government leaders really believe in "One Country, Two Systems" and are confident enough not to second-guess Mr. Jiang for once. Until that happens, no amount of expensive showmanship can convince the world that the "One Country, Two Systems" policy works for Hong Kong.

But if the Government is not magnanimous enough to defend peaceful protests, then we might as well not host any further global conferences that will surely continue to give the wrong message about Hong Kong. For how can a city legitimately host a forum about ideas, when it continues to suppress them?

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