Many people said China had softened its stance over dissenting views when Vice-Premier Qian Qichen suggested in August that Beijing was willing to open dialogue with Hong Kong's democratic faction on handover issues. Over the summer, the mood in the community became more relaxed and people were starting to believe that perhaps Beijing had adopted a more lenient attitude towards those who spoke up about human rights and democracy issues. Hardcore democrats in Hong Kong, such as Szeto Wah, are always sceptical about Beijing's real intentions - they believe the friendly gesture is just a tactical move to talk the democrats into softening up, or even dropping, any drastic action planned for July 1. Judging from what China has done to mainland dissidents in the past few days, it is not difficult to believe that perhaps the pro-democracy activists have grounds for cynicism. Many in Hong Kong who have learned of the charges against student leader Wang Dan and the plight of dissident Wang Xizhe, are likely to share the democrats' scepticism. What have the Wangs done to justify Beijing's high-handed treatment of them? Where is the real evidence that the mainland duo were engaged in subversion? All that the pair have done is to speak their minds, offering an alternative view. The dissidents do not have any guns or tanks or troops, so how can their dissenting views subvert the leadership? And how can such a minority voice torpedo the government? One of the absurd charges pressed against Wang Dan is his participation in a distance-learning course in history from the University of California. If signing up with one of the world's most famous universities can be taken as plotting to overthrow the government, how is the Chinese leadership going to explain the enrolment of many Chinese princelings in top universities in North America and Europe? People ask: can't they come up with a more credible charge towards Wang Dan? Weng Xinqiao , of Xinhua (the New China News Agency) in Hong Kong, said in defence of China's position that the Chinese Government did not allow its people to take part in some overseas courses and whether Wan Dan had committed the offence of trying to overturn the government would depend on what courses he had signed for. If this is the case, Hong Kong people will ask: what will happen to Hong Kong after 1997? Are similar restrictions going to be applied here? Beijing may say Hong Kong people do not really have to worry. The promise of 'one country, two systems' is not an empty slogan. The practice in Hong Kong will be different from that on the mainland. But are local people going to believe this when they hear Beijing officials say that in interpreting 'one country, two systems', the wider context of one country must come first; whenever there is conflict between applying the two concepts, the one country ideal must be applied at the expense of the two systems. With this frequent reminder, how can local people have faith that Beijing can tolerate dissenting views in Hong Kong after 1997? The cases of the Wangs is more likely to engender a greater sense of scepticism among local people towards China. Perhaps on reflection, for Hong Kong Chinese, we should not have said that the charge against Wang Dan was absurd, perhaps we should only feel sad about how insecure our future sovereign is in its ability to govern, and we should feel sorry that a little dissenting voice has been amplified so disproportionately, exposing nothing but China's paranoia.