PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2007, 12:00am

Conserve our heritage, don't destroy it

Paul Zimmerman, ('Pier pressure and the route to harmony', May 4), has correctly emphasised the importance of the setting and context of Queen's Pier in its relationship to the City Hall and Edinburgh Place, which the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA) and others have identified as being of critical importance.

The government's intention, however, is to demolish and rebuild the pier in an alternative location, despite the HKIA wanting to see it conserved at its present site.

What the authorities do not seem to grasp is that once the building has been demolished it has ceased to exist, and to reconstruct it - presumably using some of the stonework and signage - would just be a replica.

To my knowledge, such a replica would not come under any of the international conservation charters worthy of the name.

To decide to demolish the pier and suggest alternative locations for it before the Antiquities Advisory Board has determined whether it should be categorised as a monument - which would, no doubt, protect it against such destruction - is surely outrageous.

The government should be taking the lead in showing developers and private owners how to carefully conserve Hong Kong's heritage, rather than taking the lead in destroying it.

Let us hope that the Antiquities Advisory Board can improve on its toadying reputation of the past and declare Queen's Pier a monument.

Ken Borthwick, Pok Fu Lam

Disillusioned with the URA

Amid all the controversy surrounding the work of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) I still had a sense that it was at least doing some things right.

But after walking in Ship Street recently, I have become saddened and disillusioned with the URA's redevelopment work. On its website, the URA states that it 'acts on its priorities with ingenuity and sensitivity' working to 'enhance and strengthen the socio-economic and environmental fabric for the benefit of our urban communities'.

The renderings of the Johnston Road/Ship Street redevelopment on the website support these statements, but the unfortunate fact is that the reality proves otherwise.

The URA renderings show a unified development where a slender residential tower and podium work in harmony with the adjacent shop houses.

But all this has been forgone. The tower, now bulky, partially extends out over Ship Street. Its height has turned the street into a dark canyon.

The shop houses may have been restored, but they have never looked so isolated and hemmed in as they do now.

This is heartbreaking for me, as I was expecting the URA to live up to the vision that was shown in its renderings. Instead, it has succeeded in destroying yet another part of Wan Chai's historic urban fabric.

Victor Lee, Mid-Levels

Legal musings common sense

I am afraid Audrey Lam, ('Common law standpoint a misconception'), and Cynthia Sze, ('Mired in pedantry', both May 7), are confused about the relationship of the Basic Law to the common law. The Basic Law is the instrument by which the sovereignty of China is expressed over Hong Kong.

It was the potential gap in a definable source of sovereignty, thus of rights protectable by the state, that led to the concern of legal professionals and politicians in the run-up to 1997.

Under the scope of the Basic Law, it has been determined by the sovereign (China) that the common law should continue to be applied in Hong Kong. Whatever might be its origins as an alleged instrument of the crown of England hundreds of years ago, common law is respected for its capacity to evolve as society evolves, and that is why it has lasted well. Indeed, it has become the foundation of the world's commercial-law system for that very reason.

It is not pedantry or love of an intellectual imbroglio to ask today what happens when the sovereign's existing commitment to a particular form of legal system in a particular portion of its territory expires in 40 years' time. It is common sense. Does all land revert to the sovereign? Will the sovereign re-create the leases? These are not trivial questions.

As for Ms Sze's concern on human rights, the courts apply all elements of the law in Hong Kong. It is the independence of the judiciary and the integration of all sources of law when passing judgment - the common law, equity, ordinances passed by the Legislative Council and other sources identified in the Basic Law - that has gained our courts and legal system their justified reputation as the best and freest in Asia.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels

Women have right of choice

Paul Flynn, ('A political slant', May 7), says abortion today is really more a political matter than a personal one. Sure it is - the same way it's also a private moral choice that should be made by those whose bodies are affected: women. My point is that it's time to call a halt to all the pious pronouncements on a matter concerning half of this planet's population, the one long subjected to the repressive religious dictates of the patriarchy.

Isabel Escoda, Lantau

Media failed us on massacre

The Virginia Tech massacre has left the world reeling in shock and sorrow. With classes there having resumed last week, America has begun to recover a sense of normality, while Koreans living in the US and around the world are also relieved there has been no backlash against the Korean community.

In retrospect, the quality of the reporting on the tragedy left a lot to be desired, and indeed was plainly careless at times. A news article in the Chicago Sun-Times, erroneously naming a Chinese student at Virginia Tech as the killer, was evidently picked up by major media outlets without verification.

As a consequence, the student's name and his online blog were publicly disclosed, which resulted in death threats being made against him until the identity of the real gunman, Cho Seung-hui, was eventually released by the Virginia state police.

Chinese students at Virginia Tech were frustrated by the 'reckless' report and China's Foreign Ministry criticised the media involved for being 'irresponsible'.

Even as this blunder was revealed, the public's attention was quickly turned towards South Koreans when Cho was identified. Since then, countless headlines have capitalised on the fact that the gunman was South Korean.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry expressed concern that the shootings would 'stir up racial prejudice and confrontation' and South Korean students at Virginia Tech stayed together in fear of retaliation.

International students in Hong Kong were also worried that the revelation of Cho's ethnicity would cause a serious backlash against not only Koreans, but Asians in general.

At a time when emotions were still raw and confused, headlines such as 'Virginia Tech: Gunman student from S Korea' and 'Korean student was campus killer' would be good contenders for stirring up racial prejudice and confrontation.

To neutrally inform the world of the news is a responsibility entrusted to the media by the public in the utmost good faith, and it failed in that duty.

Roddy Wan, Pok Fu Lam