Chey's fond farewell

TO become the most senior diplomat for the Australian Government in Hong Kong, Dr Jocelyn Chey had only to move from Tsim Sha Tsui to Wan Chai. Just three years later, this circumspect Sinologist is packing up her ceramic kangaroo collection and heading for Sydney.

She leaves, it seems, with some reluctance, but with advice, concerns and a point of view that is pragmatic given the political wild cards proffered by Beijing on important matters linked to Hong Kong.

'My appointment was slightly unusual in that I was employed from outside the diplomatic service,' said Dr Chey, who has decades of experience in the region. Her move across Victoria Harbour came in 1992 when her contract as director of the International Wool Secretariat ended and she took up the offer from Canberra to become Australia's Consul-General in the territory.

Since then Dr Chey has been diplomatically responsible for about 30,000 Australians living and working in Hong Kong.

Her concerns run particularly deep for the large swathe of Australians who face potential problems the other side of 1997.

It is estimated that up to a quarter of the Australian passport holders in the territory have cause for concern.

They are Hong Kong Chinese who have secured Australian passports as an insurance policy against the worst after the change of sovereignty.

Unfortunately, China may have the last say on the fine print of that policy and Dr Chey acknowledged that bilateral talks with China may be necessary to gain assurances for such people.

She acknowledged that China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Director Lu Ping had given the right indications in respect of the future for foreign nationals in Hong Kong after 1997.

However, she expressed some misgivings on the broad-brush approach of Mr Lu and other Chinese officials in issuing assurances.

Recent mainland rumblings have suggested that ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong in possession of foreign passports would have to prove a permanent or solid link to the country of their passport or be considered as a Chinese national in the future Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Of course, this is a major demand on a foreign passport holder, no matter how zealously China guards its sovereignty.

Exactly what would constitute a permanent link with Australia or any other foreign country has not been made clear. Dr Chey said that if answers are not forthcoming, Australia will go looking for them.

'The transition in 1997 creates some unique problems we think are still not completely clarified,' she said.

Without those assurances, Australian passport holders in 'the doubtful category' would certainly feel reluctant to travel to China for fear that arrest or detention could result in them being treated not as Australian nationals but as Chinese nationals.

The same could be said of their situation in the future SAR.

Dr Chey is quick to spring to the defence of Australians in the territory and their loyalty as Australian nationals. 'Anyone who has identified themselves to me as Australian has retained very strong links with Australia,' she said.

Australian businessman James Peng Jiandong continues to be held in a Shenzhen prison 20 months after being arrested for financial crimes in China.

The Australian Senate has passed a motion calling for Beijing to hand down a verdict or release him.

There have been ponderings in Australia over whether Peng would have been treated this way by China if he had not been ethnic Chinese. China claims he committed the crime as a Chinese national and later escaped to Australia where he gained citizenship.

There has also been severe criticism of how the Australian Government has handled his situation, amid claims he would have been better protected if he had been a blonde-haired, blue-eyed 'Aussie' rather than a Chinese-Australian.

'The Australian Government offers exactly the same consular protection to all its citizens no matter where they are from originally . . . from Hong Kong to Wagga to Dubbo,' Dr Chey said.

'When we are asked to intervene, our contact with the Chinese Government has been good. When we have asked for access to people we have been given it. I am not aware of any cases where it has been refused.

'We regularly advise people to take care when travelling in parts of the world where the legal system is not as well developed. We are not a nanny government. They have to look after themselves,' she said.

Despite setbacks and concerns relating to nationality issues, which Dr Chey agrees is one of the most important issues confronting thousands of people in Hong Kong with foreign passports, she is confident the right steps are being taken.

Encouraged by the dialogue between the Immigration Department and China and the establishment of informal links through recent visits to Beijing by Immigration Director Laurence Leung Ming-yin, Dr Chey believes the SAR passport will be a document her visa staff will be satisfied with.

She said it was likely the SAR passport would receive similar treatment to existing PRC travel documents, which if necessary could have visa applications processed in a matter of hours.

Dr Chey did, however, offer the services of Australian immigration staff as consultants if the SAR Government or China need advice on security aspects of the SAR passport likely to be issued to residents after the handover.

Looking to the future of the Consulate-General beyond 1997, Dr Chey expected an upturn in trade-related activities but predicted that other aspects of consular work carried out in Hong Kong would remain at existing levels.

'Beyond 1997 I expect the consulate will maintain its autonomy and we don't envisage any major changes in our operations,' she said.

'Our obligations continue and we are definitely here and in the region for the long haul.' She said trade interests will develop significantly through the several trade offices in China and consular offices in Beijing and Guangzhou.

'The direction of trade in Australia is increasingly towards this part of the world.' Dr Chey's previous job as Director of the International Wool Secretariat in Hong Kong gave her a firm insight into the massive trade contracts doing the rounds of the region.

Coupled with her marriage to Hong Kong businessman Hans Moon Lin, Dr Chey's firm hand on the tiller has accorded her much respect from business people seeking to develop their interests in China.

Yet the business world is not what she returns to. Dr Chey is going back to the world of academia but is quick to stress that 'it certainly isn't ivory tower stuff'.

She will be holding public forums based around her knowledge of Asia and specifically China. 'A lot of diplomats are frustrated academics,' she quipped.