THE Legislative Council's decision to send a cross-party delegation to the United Nations should be hailed as an important signal to China of the broad backing (even among its supporters) for civil, political and economic rights in Hong Kong. It is also a token of the newly-elected Council's ability to work in harmony towards widely shared goals. The willingness of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) and the Liberal Party to vote with the Democrats shows Hong Kong politicians are prepared to stand united when they agree China has got something wrong. Even the DAB's Cheung Hon-chung, who agreed to join the delegation to Geneva last Friday but backed out yesterday, said his party still supported the Council decision. China is committed under the Joint Declaration to the principle that the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong will remain in force. The Joint Declaration is an internationally recognised treaty. China's failure to sign either covenant is a dereliction of its responsibilities to its own people. It does not absolve it of the responsibility for reporting to the UN Human Rights Committee and the Economic and Social Committee in the same way as the United Kingdom does today. Unless the sovereign power fulfils its obligation to report on rights in the territory, the UN will not be obliged to debate or examine them. That would be bad for Hong Kong, but it would not necessarily be helpful to China. Without discussion in the UN, reports to Congress by the US State Department under the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act and the country report on China under the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act will be the main vehicles for regular international scrutiny of Beijing's political and human rights record here. Both are likely to take a tougher line than a report by the UN, where China is represented. It would be far better for all sides if Beijing continued to send reports to the UN.