Facing penury with pride after appeal to flood-fighting spirit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 October, 1998, 12:00am

It would be a well-constructed speech, of that we were sure. Professionally drafted by the Central Policy Unit team, overseen by the Policy Address Steering Committee, polished and honed by the Chief Executive himself, it had to be an address of which the nation could be proud.

All Chinese would rejoice that One Country, Two Dialects was working well in Hong Kong. It would be a speech delivered in formal Cantonese, but would read well in Putonghua. The leadership would be proud. And, for only the second time since policy addresses began, they could read it all in the language of delivery.

Thus it was that we went to the gallery, ready to listen closely to the introductory sentences, settle in comfortably for the long hours of detail in the body of the speech, then perch once more on the edge of our seat for the peroration.

It was a rewarding strategy. Mr Tung began with just the right touch of constitutional propriety.

'Hong Kong people have been running Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law,' he said. 'The central Government has, by its actions, fulfilled its promise to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. The international community has generally recognised that the principle of 'One Country, Two Systems' has been realised successfully in Hong Kong. The fact that China has given us her full support is something we should take comfort in.' We heard those fine, uplifting words and relaxed. When the time came, we knew, we would finish on a note of pride in the Motherland.

We were right. One hundred and seventy paragraphs later, Mr Tung spoke with emotion. 'As I prepared for this Policy Address, images kept flashing though my mind of our countrymen fighting the terrible floods which swept through China this summer . . . As we in Hong Kong face one of the most severe challenges in our recent history, I deeply believe that, if we can show the same spirit of strength, courage, solidarity and concern for our fellow citizens we will be able to overcome our present difficulties and build a brighter future.' As we prepared to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm in the comfort of the gallery, we thought of our fellow SAR denizens. We thought of them removing their fingers from the till to stick them in the dyke, or standing, neck-deep in the raging waters of recession, meekly accepting a pay cut as their mortgage repayments reduced them to penury.

We thought of them pulling together. And we thought of Mr Tung's words on welfare payments. (We had been listening to the details after all). 'Although the current economic conditions have left more people in financial difficulty,' he said, 'the Government must handle its finances prudently.' When you all pull together, who can you spare to man the lifeboats?