Handling Han Dongfang

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 September, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 September, 1995, 12:00am

TWO years ago dissident and workers' rights campaigner Han Dongfang was caught trying to re-enter his native China. He was expelled and suffered the serious and unexpected punishment of having his passport withdrawn. He is still in Hong Kong trying to get his passport back and return home. Without papers, and with the borders of his homeland still closed to him, Mr Han is effectively a stateless person. He cannot travel unless it is on a United Nations passport.

The one thing Mr Han is determined not to do is accept that he has been condemned to permanent exile. He would rather face the consequences (and, perhaps, also savour the publicity) of standing up to the regime at home than be just another dissident shouting lamely from the sidelines in the US or Australia.

China should, in theory, be happy to play along rather than risk the damage to its image of yet another high-profile dissident forced into exile in the West. Punishment by exile is outlawed by international convention. By letting Mr Han go home, China could portray itself as forgiving and lenient. Yet, instead, Beijing is virtually challenging him to ask for political asylum elsewhere.

Beijing now criticises Hong Kong for allowing him to stay here, the one alternative option still open to Mr Han if he does not wish to be forced to accept he is a refugee. That is not only unfair on Mr Han and the Hong Kong Government (which is being made to look as though it is defying China on yet another sensitive point of sovereignty), it is also illogical. The only reason he is still here is because he cannot go home. That, surely, is a matter for China to resolve, not for Hong Kong.

The past two years have not changed that. Neither will rough nor contemptuous treatment of Mr Han and his supporters by China's representatives at Xinhua (the New China News Agency). He is still Chinese, despite the loss of his passport, and should be recognised as such. The least China can do is receive his petitions.