South China Morning Post, October 31, 2000

Jiang loses cool, Tung loses credibility

By Martin Lee

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa characterised President Jiang Zemin's lambasting of the Hong Kong media as well-meaning advice. This has a ring of deja vu about it.

Some readers will recall that some six months ago Beijing gave the same description to the high-handed warnings by one senior official in the central Government's Liaison Office, Wang Fengchao, on the coverage of the pro-independence views of then Taiwan's Vice-President-elect Annette Lu Hsiu-lien.

He had warned the Hong Kong media not to report separatist ideas as ordinary dissenting views. This was because local journalists had a duty to uphold national unity and territorial integrity, he claimed.

He also urged the SAR Government to step up its enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law to prohibit acts of subversion and secession.

In moving my motion in the Legislative Council on May 24 on the impropriety of these remarks by Mr Wang, I said that if we were to allow just one such interference from Beijing to happen without objection, it would happen again and again, and soon the exception would become the rule, and the policy of "one country, two systems" would become a litany of broken promises.

In opposing my motion, some of my Legco colleagues accused me of being hyper-sensitive and claimed that I was actually trying to stifle Mr Wang's freedom of expression.

So we should not be surprised by a remark by Premier Zhu Rongji last week - that the state leaders were merely exercising their freedom of expression when they said that they supported Mr Tung for a second term of office. What Mr Zhu failed to answer, however, was the question of whether their expression of support for Mr Tung would have the effect of an "imperial order" to Hong Kong, deterring any would-be contender from running against Mr Tung.

For the people of Hong Kong, the bottom line of "one country, two systems" is that our freedoms remain intact. In recent years, the mainland has made much progress in terms of economic advancement, but it still lags far behind in terms of the rule of law, individual freedoms and, in particular, freedom of the press.

In a socialist system, the media has a "sacred" role to play: that of preaching and explaining government policies to the people. In other words, the media is expected to be the Government's mouthpiece.

This view finds its most vocal advocate in Hong Kong in Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee member Xu Simin, who has repeatedly argued for the "reining in" of RTHK because it is funded by the SAR Government.

But the great majority of the people in Hong Kong would not agree with this attitude. Journalistic professionalism as well as the free market require that our journalists report on all matters of concern to our people. As a matter of fact, Mr Tung often cites the unbridled press as proof that Hong Kong's autonomy is alive and well after the handover.

People in Hong Kong take pride in our free press. The Hong Kong reporters who travelled to Beijing to cover Mr Tung's visit were expected to raise the question with Beijing leaders as to whether Mr Tung has their support for a second term.

Indeed, if the American 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, whom Mr Jiang praised so warmly, had been there, he would have undoubtedly asked the same question.

Many people have wondered why Mr Jiang lost his temper in front of the TV cameras. Could it be that he was frustrated at having to defend Mr Tung? After all, from Beijing leaders' point of view, as long as they allow Hong Kong to remain a separate system, it should be able to run itself.

Why, then, should it be necessary for them to call Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang to Beijing and ask her to give better support to Mr Tung? Could it be that the Beijing leaders are concerned about the fall of Mr Tung's popularity rating? If it drops further, it could not be in Beijing's interest to give Mr Tung a second term in the face of the many public demonstrations against the Chief Executive and his policies, since Beijing would then be seen to be against the people of Hong Kong. Besides, who in Beijing would like to spend another five years having to defend Mr Tung to Hong Kong?

As for Mr Tung, it could not have been a pleasant experience for him either. He was seen on TV smiling embarrassingly while Mr Jiang was admonishing the Hong Kong journalists. I wonder whether any of his advisers has told him that, if he wants another term, the best way to secure the Beijing's blessing is to convince its leaders that they will have nothing to worry about in Hong Kong if he stays in charge - that everything is under control.

But to do that, he must first win over Hong Kong people by assuring them that he will listen more to them and their democratically elected representatives. He must convince them that there will be no more re-interpretation of the Basic Law in Beijing; that no more Sally Aw Sians will escape prosecution; and that no more prime sites will be sold to the children of his good friends without going through a bidding procedure - in short, that he treasures and upholds the rule of law instead of just paying lip service to it.

It sounds easy. But why is it so difficult for Mr Tung? The answer is simple. We lack a good system.

As Deng Xiaoping once said: "With a good system, even evil men cannot do evil. But without a good system, even good men cannot do good, but will be forced to do evil." Mr Tung is a good man without a good system - a democratic system. He has the power from Beijing but not the mandate from his people.

Establish that good system in Hong Kong, and Beijing leaders will find a totally different Hong Kong - a confident Chief Executive who does not ask for help from Beijing, and a people who are more content because their problems are solved by a caring and accountable government. Maybe then Mr Jiang will feel as relaxed with Hong Kong's journalists as with Mike Wallace.


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