RTHK: Letter to Hong Kong

With Tsang Yok-sing

2003-07-13

 

My party, DAB, is said by many critics to be the biggest loser in the series of political events that started on July 1. DAB supports Article 23 legislation, and stood behind the government's target to pass the bill within the legislative session that ended last week.

 

The march on July 1, and subsequent developments of the political situation, thwarted the government's plans for the legislation.

 

Now no one knows when the bill can go back to the legislative council, or even whether it can go back at all, for resumption of second reading. In the mass protests against the bill, DAB was portrayed as an enemy of the people of Hong Kong. Organizers of the protests told participants to vote DAB out in upcoming elections. I received telephone calls, fax messages and email accusing DAB and me of betraying Hong Kong. The callers, some of whom claimed to be long-time DAB supporters, vowed they would never vote for DAB candidates in all future elections.

 

This is not the first time DAB has been called enemy of Hong Kong people. As soon as the party was formed 11 years ago, it was labeled "pro-China" or "pro-Beijing" which, in the political atmosphere that prevailed throughout the run-up period to 1997, was synonymous with "anti-Hong Kong" . Hong Kong had no choice but to return to China in 1997, to a regime which many had come to Hong Kong to escape from. We formed DAB with the hope of bridging the gap between Hong Kong people and the Chinese government, believing that the "one country, two systems" policy would work if, and only if, both sides would work together to build up mutual understanding and trust.

 

But the Chinese and British governments were at loggerheads most of the time, and it was difficult to convince Hong Kong people that the Chinese government was on their side. Many were afraid that Beijing would break her promises and infringe upon Hong Kong's autonomy. They thought they needed politicians who would stand up and fight, not those who they believed would only say "yes" to Beijing. It was often said that in the popular elections before 1997, any connection with the Chinese government was a "kiss of death" for a candidate. When we told people that our party, with the "pro-Beijing" background of its core members, was going to take part in Hong Kong's elections, many said we were a nonstarter.

 

And yet we took part in every popular election, and grew in number and strength from one election to the next. We never tried to hide our congenial relationship with the Chinese government. Instead, we made our efforts to turn this perceived liability into an asset, demonstrating to our voters that we would and we could make use of our ties with the mainland to serve the people of Hong Kong.

 

Facts have spoken louder than words. Beijing's meticulous observance of the "one country, two systems" principle since the handover has allayed most of the fears and suspicion that plagued Hong Kong people before, and with that allegations of DAB betraying Hong Kong have gradually subsided.

 

It would be naive, however, to think that mistrust no longer exists between Hong Kong people and the Chinese government. The dispute about Article 23 legislation shows that despite the conciliatory relationship that has developed in the last six years, deep-rooted fears still remain in the hearts of Hong Kong people for the Chinese government's disregard of civil rights.

 

It seems futile to defend the proposed national security legislation by pointing out that it is more liberal than existing law, and that with respect to protection of human rights it compares favourably with similar legislation in other civilized countries. People fear that it will be abused by the Hong Kong government, at the order of the Central government which has a very different idea from Hong Kong people's of the balance between national security and the individual's freedoms and rights.

 

We find ourselves in a situation similar to that before 1997. No amount of rational debate can dispel fears that the national security law will be used as a tool for suppression, that once it is put in place, dissenting voices will be silenced, journalists will be jailed, and organizations unfriendly to Beijing will be banned.

 

We understand these fears, and we know that those who have these fears will be angry with us when we show our support for Article 23 legislation, just as people who feared Beijing would control Hong Kong after 1997 were angry with DAB for its "pro-Beijing" stance. We know, furthermore, that our opponents in the upcoming elections will capitalize on this controversy and turn public sentiments into votes in their favour. But we believe the legislation is Hong Kong's constitutional obligation, and an essential step in the implementation of "one country, two systems". We believe that the bill produced by the government strikes a right balance between protecting national security and safeguarding human rights. We believe that time will bear this out, just as time has borne out Beijing's promises for Hong Kong's autonomy.

 

If these beliefs make us losers, who can the winners be?