Lu finds a pressure point

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 June, 1996, 12:00am

After serving seven solitary years in jail, Bao Tong , the personal aide to the disgraced Communist Party boss Zhao Ziyang , was this week moved to a more polished 'cell' under close surveillance of public security officers.

Family members who have been allowed to visit him revealed the former politburo secretary was not merely in frail condition, but had difficulty speaking because he had been alone so long.

Even if the communist leadership allowed him to do so, Bao Tong has no choice but to stay silent.

The appalling plight of the former cadre has provided the most vivid - and ironic - example of the clampdown on political dissent under the communist regime.

The high-handed tactics of the ruling party towards dissent have not just scuppered political pluralism, but put a severe physical and psychological burden on dissidents.

Mr Bao's troubles do not augur well for freedom of expression in the territory after it reverts to Chinese rule.

Remarks made by China's top spokesman on Hong Kong policy Lu Ping to the CNN network on the limits of press freedom have fortified fears among local journalists over how free the local press will be after July 1 next year.

Emphasising that the Basic Law already provides adequate protection of civil liberties, Mr Lu was explicit in laying down the restricted area for expressing views in the media.

The advocacy of the so-called 'two Chinas' will be absolutely forbidden in media reports.

Any suggestion that Hong Kong or Taiwan should go independent has been defined by Mr Lu as an 'action that will be outlawed in the Special Administrative Region.' By saying that, he has apparently taken for granted that his assertion will be defined in SAR laws despite the fact that the spectrum of different political views has been much wider in the territory under British rule.

Unpopular in the territory it may be, but the opinion that Taiwan should be given independence has been allowed to be published in local press, spoken of in phone-in programme and public forums.

The beauty of a free society is that there are no restrictions on thought and the channels through which different views can be made public.

Only when the views given provoke unrest and instability should they be subject to legal punishment.

Without giving further elaboration on what the press will not be allowed to say after July 1 next year, Mr Lu's remarks are likely to cast a shadow over the future of a free press, and more importantly, freedom of expression.

The 'two Chinas' example is but the most obvious taboo subject in the Special Administrative Region.

There are many others such as the question of Tibet, human rights and the nuclear testing policy.

Will the local press be required to support central Government national policies? Will views that are not in line with central policies be allowed to be given through various channels to the public? The dilemma for the communist regime is that while on one hand they understand well the significance of a free press in Hong Kong, on the other they are adamant that the press must also serve the national interest in propagandising central policies.

Any alternative views will be seen as dissonance that might destabilise society in both the SAR and the mainland.

This is in contrast with the experience of a free society that it can become more stable if political dissent and the voices of the underprivileged are allowed to be heard. There are grey areas under the 'One country, two systems' policy which occur when the two diverse systems cross paths.

They need to be further clarified during and after the handover.

It requires political courage, tolerance as well as far-sighted vision for the leaders of China to understand a free society on the southern tip of the mainland will serve the country in the long run.