THOSE who have been chosen to represent Hong Kong on the Preparatory Committee, which will oversee the territory's reversion to Chinese rule, have a heavy duty to discharge. The exclusion of the Democratic Party is to be deplored, yet scarcely surprising given Beijing's deep hostility towards the biggest political party within the Legislative Council. Nonetheless the 94 local appointees should prove sufficiently broadly-based to embrace most shades of opinion in Hong Kong. Compared with the yes-men (and women) who dominated the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC), they represent a substantial improvement. The business sector's heavy representation merely mirrors London's decades-long strategy of governing the territory in alliance with leading industrialists. All that has changed are the faces, with the Preparatory Committee naturally dominated by representatives of Chinese rather than British hongs. Some degree of balance is provided by the inclusion of a small number of welfare representatives and grassroots activists, such as the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood chairman Frederick Fung Kin-kee, who will be one of the few quasi-democrats on the new body. Particularly welcome is the appointment of two former Basic Law drafters who quit in protest at Beijing's handling of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. This shows a refreshing willingness on China's part to set past differences aside, and a hopeful sign that reconciliation with at least some parts of the Democrats may eventually prove possible. Yet this more broadly-based representation will serve little purpose unless those chosen have the courage to speak out on Hong Kong's behalf. Their task will not be easy since the more independent voices will be in a minority. Although less so than its predecessor, the Preparatory Committee is still dominated by the most conservative of the pro-China political factions. Together with the 56 mainland members, who are sure to act in unison, they can probably command enough votes to endorse even the most unpopular of the PWC's proposals. But this should not deter the other members from trying to prevent this. By including a wider range of opinions than it did on the PWC, Beijing has made some degree of dissent almost inevitable within the new body. This is a healthy development and any attempt to muzzle it, by imposing collective responsibility, should be opposed. The establishment of the Preparatory Committee is a crucial step along the path towards fulfilling Deng Xiaoping's commitment to allow Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong. Too often in recent years confidence in that concept has been harmed by the disturbing tendency of Beijing's advisers to speak with one voice, and only say what they believe China wants to hear. If this trend has now been shattered by the emergence of a Preparatory Committee containing some degree of divergent views, that can only be positive for Hong Kong's future. Those who speak up in the territory's best interests may not necessarily be in the majority on the new committee. But at least they now have an opportunity to make their views properly heard. Let's hope that Beijing will listen.