Han's China gamble

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 1993, 12:00am

EXILED Chinese dissident Han Dongfang is back in Hong Kong pondering his next move. Despite two failed attempts in as many days to return to China, he shows no signs of being cowed. Indeed, he seems as determined as ever to do whatever is necessary tosucceed.

It can, of course, be no coincidence that his attempts to return to China have taken place ahead of this week's meeting between American President Bill Clinton and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin. What better way to embarrass China than to focus international attention on his plight? While it may not be one man against the system, his treatment at the hands of Chinese authorities cannot put China's human rights record in a favourable light, especially as Mr Clinton considers his response to the renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation trading status.

For the time being, Mr Han has publicity and public sympathy on his side. However, this is where the danger lies. The international media tends to tire quickly of the China issue and if Mr Han is not careful he could lose public support for his cause if his attempts to return to China seem no more than calculated publicity stunts.

Mr Han's challenge to the Chinese authorities on Friday disrupted cross-border traffic, causing delay to thousands of travellers. Of course in Mr Han's mind, his case is more important than inconveniencing others. However, not everyone shares his opinion about the righteousness of his cause. He will have to think his next step through carefully if he is to avoid being characterised as a tiresome irritant.

There can be no defence of China's decision to cancel Mr Han's passport and refuse him entry. However, it would be a pity if Mr Han allowed himself to be isolated and portrayed as a tool of other people's ambitions.