Vice-Premier Qian Qichen concluded the Preparatory Committee plenary session earlier this month with a gracious gesture. He invited people of dissenting opinions to participate in the selection committee for the nomination of the chief executive and provisional legislature. His overture dispelled some misconceptions and myths about the Chinese Government being hermetically sealed to anyone who disagrees with its policies towards Hong Kong, the Special Administrative Region. But sadly, many of those so wooed quickly rebuffed the overture and stuck to confrontation. Some dismayed by the rejection now say the opponents of the selection committee are personally and ideologically committed to resisting the restoration of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. They argue that the spurning of the Chinese olive branch betrays the truth that some individuals and groups' expressed wish to reach a dialogue with the Chinese leadership is sheer rhetoric and that their real nature has been betrayed as their bluff has now been called. Passengers who miss the train of history by refusing to come to the station when the whistle blows have themselves to blame if they are left behind, along with their heavy political baggage, on the platform. I would rather take a more benign view that some of those who have rashly turned down the offer might change their minds and participate, even if it means being alienated from or tossed out of their party. To join or not to join the selection committee must ultimately be a decision for a person and not that of a party which, if tolerant, would, like China, accede to dissension within its ranks. I urge people, whatever their political orientation, to join the selection committee which should be a broad church representing the width and depth of Hong Kong's beliefs. Never before has Hong Kong been allowed any part in the picking of a governor, who has always been the exclusive choice of the British prime minister and his foreign office. There has been no input whatever from the people of the territory who must abide by the decision and its consequences. My regret is that the Hong Kong administration has unwisely opted to deny 30,000 of its employees - including police, senior policy directors and Government Information Services officers - their right to participate in the selection committee. The Government argues that it has to maintain the political neutrality of the civil service. To me, however, joining the temporary entity can in no fair way be construed as a betrayal of the administration that has promised to co-operate in founding the SAR, nor of the civil servants' own oath to serve the public. The Government bans civil servants from joining political parties but allows them the franchise to vote in the district boards, the municipal councils and the Legislative Council. The selection committee cannot be equated to a political party because it has no lasting political agenda nor programme, but its membership's purpose can be compared with voting in an electoral college. The selection committee is widely welcomed by the community, as evinced by the rush for application forms, 4,000 of which were distributed in the first day of the nomination process that is to end next month. A vote by selection committee members, who represent the people of Hong Kong from all walks of life, is a vote for the future and for the 'high degree of autonomy' that we are to receive from July 1 next year. I find it ironic that one group, asked to join, has decided to abstain in the name of democracy while another eager to take part has been told to refrain in the name of bureaucracy when ultimately the choice should be that of the individual.