Only the most incorrigible optimist would have looked forward to Lu Ping's visit as an opportunity for reconciliation between China and the democratic camp. Nevertheless, there was some reason to hope that the Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office might be open with the business audience attending his luncheon speech. Yet instead of using the opportunity to clarify a range of contentious issues - including some raised by other speakers at the Hong Kong Economic Development Conference - Mr Lu chose to confine himself to a restatement of China's public position on nationality and right of abode. It was his audience's fault that only one question of definition was raised and he was not quizzed further on the criticisms that position has prompted. But it was Mr Lu's own choice not to address those criticisms in the body of the speech. He did not provide answers to those who believe Beijing's plans will be an administrative nightmare or fear new uncertainties over their status. Nor did he respond to those who ask why a simple declaration would not suffice for returning emigrants to retain their right of abode while keeping their foreign nationality and consular protection. Perhaps from China's point of view the answers to these questions are too obvious to state. But sometimes stating the obvious can help clear misunderstandings. Equally disappointing, although unsurprising, was that Mr Lu chose to leave the conference by a back door rather than face questions from the media - or expose himself to slogans from a few protesters outside. Mr Lu should be reminded that the essence of the Hong Kong 'system' the Basic Law pledges to uphold is the freedom to question and criticise. Those who demonstrate or disagree with Mr Lu's opinions are neither breaking the law nor going beyond the limits of acceptable behaviour. Mr Lu knows Hong Kong well, yet so far he has shown no sign of understanding the local way of thinking and behaving. It must be hoped that the rest of his visit - especially the weekend's Preparatory Committee consultations and the meeting with the Chief Secretary, Anson Chan Fang On-sang - is more of a dialogue than a lecture tour.