PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am

Bill ignores language discrimination

While the legislature is deliberating Hong Kong's Race Discrimination Bill, the United Nations has threatened to label Hong Kong's race relations an 'urgent issue' if it finds the bill ineffective. Why? Minorities account for 5 per cent of Hong Kong's population, comprised mainly of foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Institutional racism against these migrant workers is out of the question. Mainland Chinese are denied the right to come here and enjoy these foreign domestic helpers' employment benefits, such as a minimum wage, room, board and paid vacations. Some local workers have to work an eight-hour day, seven days a week for a foreign domestic helper's wage, without any of the benefits.

The problem that some immigrants, whether South Asian or Chinese, face is language, not race. Immigrants who have successfully acquired the required language skills face no race barrier, as evidenced by the presence of South Asians in senior positions in public and private organisations.

The Race Discrimination Bill defines race as 'colour, descent or national or ethnic origin', whereas the Basic Law (Article 39) prohibits discrimination on language grounds. Why?

Because of Hong Kong's colonial background, there is an ingrained institutional prejudice against Chinese, the native language of 95 per cent of the population. The Basic Law provides that while Chinese is the official language, 'English may [not 'shall'] also be used' (Article 9). However, all professional degrees, save Chinese medicine, are taught and qualified in English. In all developed countries, people study and practise law, engineering and all professions in their native languages but not in Hong Kong, which shows discrimination against the Chinese language.

An anti-racism law would be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel if it did not redress the discriminatory anomaly that now has English, the native language of 0.4 per cent of the population, reigning inequitably as the dominant language. It should begin with the desegregation of all schools, including the so-called international schools that receive public funding. They should offer equal admission without discrimination on language grounds.

The law should also localise Hong Kong's legal system so that the majority of the population does not have to be tried in a language they do not understand, according to foreign customs that do not agree with their culture. The elimination of old prejudices prevents the emergence of new ones.

Pierce Lam, Central

Closing schools the right option

I refer to the letter by William Cheng ('Let children develop a natural immunity to flu', March 19).

Mr Cheng referred to 'opinions from a few which create panic among sectors of society'. However, I found his views on how to deal with the flu outbreak somewhat idealistic. He was sceptical about the initiatives taken by the Department of Health to deal with an outbreak that claimed the lives of three children. He felt letting children build up their 'natural immunity' was the only solution.

Influenza does not just kill the elderly and young children. It can kill someone in a different age group if there are complications. In other words, we should not underestimate the power of a flu virus. In suggesting the idea of letting people get sick and developing 'stronger immunity', Mr Cheng ignores the fact that there will be vulnerable groups of children, whose lives might have been at risk if Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok had not made the decision to shut schools.

Mr Cheng has little faith in the flu vaccine. However, I am willing to believe those he describes as 'so-called experts'. Surely the vaccination programme is worthwhile if it saves lives.

Daphne Wong, Tsuen Wan

Impressed by security

I refer to the news report about China thwarting an attempt to 'down an internal passenger flight en route to Beijing' ('Plane plot blamed on overseas terror threat', March 21).

Among the four arrested suspects was a 19-year-old Uygur woman who had 'confessed to carrying out a premeditated plot'.

I think the Chinese authorities should be praised for foiling this plot. They saved many lives ('all passengers and crew were unharmed') and arrested alleged terrorists. We are getting closer to the Olympics in Beijing and China showed the world that its security measures are effective.

In spite of its success in stopping this attack, the government must not relax.

It should look at all its security measures and decide if any of them need to be tightened.

Sharon Li, Kowloon Tong

F1 is hi-tech motor madness

I read Peter Sherwood's letter about Formula One motor racing 'burning oil' gratuitously and adding to global warming ('Motor racing irresponsible', March 24). That is only part of the mindless environmental damage done by motor racing, which cavalierly wastes resources such as vast amounts of rubber for tyres, while creating non-biodegradable vehicles that will eventually be chucked into landfills to be with us for thousands of years.

All motor racing is environmentally disastrous, and Formula One more than most. This hi-tech motor madness travels during the season from continent to continent, with dozens of racing cars, equipment and hundreds of racing staff flown by fleets of 747s to the next venue. As the world's richest and most high-profile motor competition, Formula One attracts hundreds of millions of followers.

What hope is there for the planet and for conservation efforts when such a large mass of humanity enthusiastically thinks this wanton environmental destruction is acceptable?

Carina Pico, Discovery Bay

Welcoming KMB's first step

I am very impressed by KMB's determination to keep its cool when it comes to the environment ('Smart air conditioning sensors make KMB buses go green', March 24).

I wonder if KMB has one of these sensors that can be installed so as to keep the volume of the Roadshow switched off once and for all. Noise pollution is an environmental matter so why is it that KMB isn't equally determined to address this abomination?

Robert Eric Smart, Tin Shui Wai

Advice for Rudd

Now that US Navy admiral William Fallon has resigned his position as head of Central Command - generally counselling caution over folly - certain matters are brought more clearly into focus ('US admiral steps down amid talk of clash over Iran', March 13).

There can be little doubt his resignation ('in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan') was induced, however often US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and others may choose to deny it. Controversy abounds. President George W. Bush clearly intends to crown his lame-duck presidency with a rooting-tooting blaze of glory in Iran, and the admiral would surely consider that rash.

For Australia, the important question will be whether our new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, will find sufficient courage to warn Mr Bush that Australia will not join him in any further military adventurism.

Dave Diss, Glengowrie, South Australia