Donald Tsang

What it meant to be back over the border

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2005, 12:00am

'This trip was an ice-breaker, but it was not warm enough'


The highlights were the dialogues - on elections, June 4 and unionism. We had a dialogue with [Guangdong party secretary] Zhang Dejiang , and although we disagreed, at least we had discussions. Although he may simply reiterate the party's position, this was the first time in 16 years that there had been a serious dialogue on June 4.

On future trips, we hope there can be more time and not so many diversions. This was the first step towards more dialogue on universal suffrage and June 4.

I am very concerned about the reaction to my call for more free trade unions. Mr Zhang responded that China did not want to have a Polish revolution.

'I did not have the chance to tell him that independent trade unions do not necessarily mean Polish Solidarity-type unionism. It concerns basic labour relations, and people should be free to form trade unions and bargain freely. I was quite shocked he reacted so strongly.

To me, this was not a freedom walk. We only had one-off home return permits. We didn't really have time to talk to the people. When we visited a university, we only had a few minutes to talk to the students. They asked me about Disney and their rights and privileges. It would have been good if we could have had separate group discussions with the students.

This trip was an ice-breaker, but it was not warm enough.

The last time I was on the mainland was 16 years ago. I was in Beijing to support the June 4 movement, and I was detained on June 5. I was only allowed to return to Hong Kong on June 8 and I was the last one out of Beijing - the others were barred from travelling.

So for me, while this trip was a dramatic one, the ultimate trip will be one where I return to Tiananmen Square.

'Mainland authorities are learning they can live with the democrats'


This trip was a very good start for both sides. We can see for ourselves the recent developments [in Guangzhou] and visit the infrastructure developments in the Pearl River Delta. We only got a quick look. For the other side, it means the mainland authorities are starting to learn that they can live with the democrats.

On Sunday night, we even had a hot debate on June 4 and political developments, and [Guangdong party secretary Zhang Dejiang ] sat down and listened very patiently. Not only were legislators there, but other deputy mayors and subordinates in the province. In the Communist Party, it is very unusual for any subordinates or colleagues to see someone speak so freely. Normally, they are given instructions and must execute these, there is no discussion or debate.

I haven't been to the mainland for 16 years. There are many new things there, most of them physical, with the infrastructure and the roads, that's all we had time to see. Economically, people seem much better off than they were 16 years ago, but I think they are still very obedient citizens who follow the Communist Party. Some of the people recognised us. Some told us that they saw us on Hong Kong television, which they like to watch because they say Guangzhou and state television is boring.

This is a good start. When the Communist Party invited us, they did not ask us to drop our views on June 4 or democratic development. They knew we would express sensitive views. This shows a fundamental change in the policy in Beijing. In April and May this year, they invited the Kuomintang to visit, this was a big development. Inviting us to the mainland is part of this change in strategy. They know that in a short period of time, they cannot settle all the differences, but they can ... try to find some co-operation and communication.

'I would not go to Beijing if there was a similar trip organised'


The highlight of the trip was the fact we were able to set foot there again after so many years. The last time I visited the mainland was in 1994 or 1995. I had just two hours in Shenzhen. It was to look at some environmental issues. I went with Peter Wong [Hong-yuen], who was a legislator. At first I could not go and so we asked Tam Yiu-chung [of the DAB] to help. He agreed to help and got me a one-day visa with a 50 per cent discount from China Travel Services.

The Chinese government has been wrong all these years. They have no reason for banning Hong Kong people. There are a lot more than those of us who went who have been banned. This ban should be lifted and all should be allowed to enter and leave mainland China.

I hope I'll be able to return, but I don't think we should be forced to go on trips like this. We should be able to travel there freely.

[That we went] is partly due to Donald Tsang [Yam-kuen]. Tung Chee-hwa, I think, did not believe in it. Mr Tsang felt differently.

We didn't really get to meet people. We had to rush around all the time. We should have been meeting National People's Congress representatives and other authorities instead of going to places for a few minutes. They spent a lot of time arranging this visit, but the whole thing was quite inadequate; no-one really got anything out of it.

If in future we can go on our own or if individual Legislative Council panels can go, then that would be more worthwhile. I would not go to Beijing if there was a similar trip organised, with everyone just rushing around in one place for 10 minutes.

I did not have a chance to ask even one question of [Guangdong party secretary] Zhang Dejiang . What I wanted to ask was why have we been banned and when will this ban be lifted?

'We let them see we are not naughty, that we can sit down and talk even if we have differing opinions'


There were two highlights for me. First was meeting [Guangdong party secretary] Zhang Dejiang and the second was the Mass I attended with Martin Lee [Chu-ming] and Donald Tsang [Yam-kuen]. I will keep both events in my memory for a long time.

The meeting with Mr Zhang was, to a certain extent, quite stressful, but it was better than nothing. It is better we have a chance to sit down together to express what we think about the Tiananmen incident.

This trip was also the first time that I have attended Mass in a Catholic church on the mainland. These were two very different occasions but both were very memorable.

I'm not a very committed Catholic; I don't go to Mass every Sunday. But I joined Martin and Donald for two reasons on Sunday morning. One was to attend Mass on the mainland, and the other is because my elder daughter is in England at a Catholic boarding school and I just realised she is very committed to her religion and goes to Mass every Sunday and has joined the choir. I went to Mass to thank God that this is a good school and hopefully my girl will have a good spiritual life.

The last time I was on the mainland was in 1986, when I went back with my parents to visit my grandmother's tombstone in Guangdong. I am optimistic that I can return again.

I think this trip we have made is part of the mainland officials' test to see if Hong Kong democrats can behave ourselves. I think we passed. We may even have got a credit, if not a distinction. At least we let them see we are not naughty, that we can sit down and talk even if we have differing opinions on particular issues.

We are elected members, elected by the Hong Kong people, who can help the mainland officials manage Hong Kong better.

Not having dialogue with democrats is unhealthy and we don't think it will help the chief executive and the government manage Hong Kong in a better way.

'I wouldn't describe the trip as a success. It was a showcase for the leaders to benefit Donald Tsang'


The highlight, I guess, was meeting [Guangdong] party secretary Zhang Dejiang and talking to him. But, he interrupted me after 35 seconds. I think he was very polite. He responded to me. In that meeting, Hong Kong legislators putting up their hands, and mainland officials putting up their hands to speak, reminded me of [George Orwell's novel] Animal Farm where everyone is created equal but some are more equal than others.

The last time I was on the mainland was in 2003 when I got a special 10-day travel document to see my mother who was ailing. Prior to that, the last time I was in China was in 1977. I did get to meet some people. Of course, the problem was that I didn't have freedom of movement at all. I was heavily escorted and controlled by both Hong Kong officials and the mainland authorities. When I tried to meet local people, I could only talk to them for about 30 seconds or a minute before officials came up to us. So I think people did not really like to talk to me much because of that. It was not easy.

Do I think this is the first of more trips? If the Chinese government wants another political show, they will invite us again, but it's just for show. After that, I think they will use this procedure to divide different groups. They will not invite the whole Legislative Council again. I think it is a tactical strategy. It is very simple, it's a divide-and-conquer strategy. They want to make the Hong Kong and Taiwanese people think they are acting with goodwill, but I don't think it is goodwill.

'If the legislators cannot enjoy their freedom of movement and the media cannot enjoy freedom of journalism and the local people cannot talk to us freely, that is no kind of freedom and no show of goodwill at all.

I was hassled about my T-shirt, but no one insisted that I remove it until I was going into the meeting with Mr Zhang. I think they did not want an ugly confrontation in front of the media. When I tried to get into a lift at the meeting, three Hong Kong and Chinese officials stopped me and said I needed to take off my T-shirt. I said I did not want to, but after a while I put another T-shirt over it.

I wouldn't describe the trip as a success. It was a showcase for the Chinese leaders to benefit Donald Tsang [Yam-kuen] and to make themselves look better. It was all just a show.