Our values are our strength

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2005, 12:00am

Guangdong party chief Zhang Dejiang had obviously anticipated democratic legislators raising the issues of June 4 and democracy during their cross-border visit last month.

He had his response prepared, and his message was clear enough: on these political issues, our positions are poles apart and irreconcilable. Let us not go on arguing about them. But on economic development and co-operation, there is a great deal of common ground and common interest. Let us seize the opportunity and discuss these matters.

To me, this is a positive message: one that keeps the door of dialogue open. There are many subjects of mutual interest, such as air and water pollution, food safety, customs and immigration. Problems in these areas can only be solved by both sides working together. The Legislative Council's panels and committees can easily follow up on such discussions.

The benefits of such exchanges will not all be on Hong Kong's side. Mainland officials do not seem too proud to learn from Hong Kong. One general area is regulation and enforcement: even where mainland China has good laws, they are most often not effectively enforced, or even simply not enforced. By comparison, Hong Kong has a better system of enforcement - which is the test of good administration.

Effective enforcement of legislation on environmental protection and food safety on the mainland will in turn benefit Hong Kong. At the same time, Hong Kong will have contributed something to the mainland.

Beijing has repeatedly stressed building up the rule of law on the mainland, and fair and effective enforcement is a significant part of that. Some supporters of Hong Kong's democratic movement worry that the 'charm offensive' of mainland visits may soften the resolve of democrats to stand up firmly for universal suffrage. Their worry may not be totally groundless.

However, the community wants democracy as a right and as an indispensable condition of good governance. Its wish will not be swayed by any charm offensive. As the people's elected representatives, any Legco member ignores this wish at his or her peril.

Mr Zhang told the Hong Kong visitors frankly that, when the city ceases to be economically successful, it will lose its political importance in China. Even from this utilitarian angle, it is advisable for Hong Kong to remain firm in the pursuit of democracy. Mr Zhang knows that as manufacturing in Guangdong peaks, the province must move towards a service economy in the near future, even to maintain its competitiveness. That explains the frenzy to build universities and expand education and training.

But it is not that simple. Service industries such as finance, banking and legal services require not only an educated population but also freedom of information and the rule of law. These are the irreducible hurdles and unsolvable dilemmas, not only for Guangdong but for the central authorities.

They are not dilemmas, or even hurdles, for Hong Kong under the 'one country, two systems' principle. What the city needs to do, for its own survival and as a contribution to China's economy, is strengthen its existing institutions and give them the firmer safeguards of a democratic government.

It is not an easy message to put across to our gracious and benevolent hosts, but we have to try our best to do so.

Above all, we must not lose sight of these realities. It is when Hong Kong's systems have become similar to those on the mainland that we will lose our usefulness and status.

Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee is a legislator representing the legal profession


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Our values are our strength

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