Curious categories

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 January, 2003, 12:00am

The Hong Kong government's decision to moderate its proposals for national security legislation is most welcome. Less welcome is its obdurate stance against a second round of consultation by issuing a white bill. The government's compilation of a report on the submissions it received on Article 23 legislation is revealing. The original consultation document set forth seven discussion areas: treason, secession, sedition, subversion, theft of state secrets, proscribing political organisations and investigation powers.

Curiously, however, the submissions were not compiled and analysed according to these categories. Instead, the Security Bureau chose to analyse public response to two questions not even asked: whether there should be legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law and whether there should be a white bill.

The bureau went to great lengths to set forth its case that a majority support legislation. Even so, it is interesting to note that 65 organisations and 1,926 individuals were opposed to any legislation to implement Article 23. The bureau included a third category of submissions, labelled 'Unclear'. Surprisingly, falling into this category was a submission from the Hong Kong Bar Association, which usually makes its position on any issue crystal clear.

If you look at the Bar Association's submission, its position seems clear enough. On page two, it says: 'While the Bar appreciates that it is the duty of the HKSAR to enact domestic laws to prohibit the acts and activities listed in Article 23, the Bar does not agree to the legislative proposals as set out in the Consultation Document.'

You would have thought the Bar Association would have been supportive of legislation to implement Article 23. But it simply did not support any of the government's proposals. The analysis on submissions as to whether there should be a white bill is even more curious. The Security Bureau did not ask for views on this issue in the consultation document. In its report, however, it goes to great lengths to show the majority of submissions did not deal with this issue, as though the public somehow does not care.

It set up two categories, 'Support Blue Bill' and 'Request White Bill', as though they are somehow contradictory. But you can request a white bill and support a blue bill. One normally follows the other.

That said, the support for a white bill is amazing. Even in the bureau's terms, submissions from those individuals who asked for a white bill outnumbered those who supported a blue bill by more than two to one.

This report reminds me of another public consultation exercise, conducted in 1987 on representative government. The key issue then was whether direct elections should begin in 1988. Just as the Security Bureau this time did not ask either if people wanted legislation or a white bill, the government in 1988 managed to avoid asking the public: do you want direct elections in 1988? The 1987 report is notorious for the way it attempted to manipulate public opinion. The response then was even greater, with 134,187 submissions received, compared with the 97,097 submissions this time.

Just how far the Survey Office went to deceive can be seen in the way it presented information. For example, a survey conducted by university staff asked people when they wanted direct elections to begin, with 11 choices, from 1987 to 1997. By far the greatest number chose 1988.

The Survey Office presented this information as: '1988, 35.9 per cent; other years, 64.1 per cent', as though most people were opposed to 1988. Actually, 1991, the year picked by the government, had only 5.4 per cent support. (I was part of a 'Delegation for Democracy' that went to London with Martin Lee Chu-ming and Daniel Fung Wah-kin to lobby for direct elections in January 1988.) However, the Survey Office at least took opinion expressed in the media into account. The Security Bureau's report is noticeably silent on media reaction.

This does not mean it is unaware of media reaction. Visit the bureau's Web site and you will find numerous letters written by Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee rebutting articles. Perhaps that is why the media was left out.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator