LAW and order is very precious to the Hong Kong people. It is also a fundamental factor which sets the colony apart from the rest of China. The March 18 incursion into Hong Kong territorial waters by Chinese security launches, in which Hong Kong people and vessels were forcibly detained and removed, has sent shivers down the spines of many people. It may well mark the beginning of the end of the rule of law. The local people's feeling of anger and frustration is compounded by the Government's reluctance to take a firm and robust stance. It is unclear whether the two Hong Kong men and their lighter and tugboat, with 40-odd second-hand cars on board, were abducted by the Zhuhai security officers in Hong Kong or Chinese territorial waters, or whether any shots were fired. Zhuhai officials told the Hong Kong police that the two men were suspected of being engaged in smuggling activity and were arrested in Chinese waters, but were brought into Hong Kong waters as they were being escorted to Zhuhai. They also said the two men would be tried in China. Governor Chris Patten said there had been a change in the Chinese version of what had happened but said if the men and vessels were being forcibly escorted through Hong Kong waters, the jurisdiction was a matter for Hong Kong. He expressed the forlorn hope that the men and vessels would be returned to Hong Kong as soon as possible. Since 1990 there had been 80 incursions into Hong Kong waters by the Chinese authorities. The latest is the first this year. Some people caught up in these distressing circumstances dare not publicise their plight for fear of aggravating the situation. Acting Secretary for Security Ken Woodhouse told the Legco Security Panel last Friday that the Marine Police did not use force to prevent the removal of the Hong Kong vessels and people because they feared the Zhuhai security officers might react violently. During the two-hour confrontation at sea off Sai Kung - 5.6 kilometres inside Hong Kong waters - the Zhuhai security officers exercised jurisdiction and pointed sub-machine guns at our police. The police were told by Security Branch officials not to escalate the situation. Few people would like to see a shoot-out, but I wonder why the British Navy's assistance was not sought. Britain is long past the age of gunboat diplomacy, but it should recognise that hostile and provocative actions must be met with firmness and strength. Instead of allowing the Zhuhai security officers to abduct the Hong Kong people and vessels, one wonders why the perpetrators were not arrested by the police and charged. It is evident that the central and regional authorities in China are testing how much they can get away with in Hong Kong. If the colony demonstrates pusillanimity in the face of Chinese aggression, it will only invite further interference and humiliation. Hong Kong people must be told what happened and how the Government intends to deal with similar occurrences in future. They also want to know how Britain proposes to secure the return of the two men and vessels. NEWS reports said the Chinese have demanded ransoms from the detainees' families. This is tantamount to kidnapping and the damage such outrageous behaviour could do to China's international reputation must be considerable. If the Chinese authorities can come into Hong Kong and abduct people and property with impunity, local people's sense of security will be seriously undermined. The incursion has once again raised the vexed question of what kind of regime the British Government is handing the Hong Kong people over to. When asked for reassurances that the principles enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration will be upheld and implemented, Mr Patten played Pontius Pilate by saying the question should be directed to the Chinese and not the British Government. By signing the Joint Declaration, which guarantees Hong Kong's free and capitalist lifestyle will be preserved for 50 years after 1997, Britain has taken on the obligation of looking after the well-beingof the Hong Kong people up to 2047. To attempt to wriggle out of the commitment is dishonourable and disgraceful.