IS IT possible to be a nationalist, a democrat and a pragmatist at the same time in Hongkong? Meeting Point thought ''yes'' in 1982. A decade later, a positive answer seems almost impossible, after Governor Mr Chris Patten's reform proposals and China's stern response to them. The closest example of such a person, in the context of China, is Dai Qing, the eminent dissident journalist who recently returned to the country after studying at Harvard. One year in the West seems to have enabled her to arrive at a more sober view of the Chinese regime in its historical context. She even talked of the lasting vital elements in Chinese culture when she was interviewed here two weeks ago. Dai incurred the ire of some Hongkong democrats by suggesting democracy in China should not be promoted by confrontational methods such as political campaigns. She also urged the Hongkong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China not to ''become too politicised''. She has yet to be declared a pro-China anti-democrat, or an outdated, muddled nationalist, and nobody has openly accused her of saying such things for her own benefit - to be able to stay with her family in Beijing or eventually to gain a lucrative post. In Hongkong, because of the impasse caused by the Patten initiatives, the political middle ground is rapidly disappearing. To maintain a balance between nationalism, democracy and pragmatism is like walking on a tightrope over Niagara Falls. A Hongkong ''Dai Qing'' is unlikely to be treated so generously. For the future of Hongkong and that of China, I believe the political middle ground must be restored. A virtuous circle, instead of a vicious one, should be promoted for Sino-Hongkong relations. To set in motion such dynamics, we need to keep good faith and nurture goodwill. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was, after all, a product of these. If we are not satisfied with the pace of democracy envisaged in the Basic Law, we should press for its amendment before or after 1997. As for its grey areas, any proposal should not violate the spirit and the framework of understanding in which the broadoutlines are codified. The pillars of the Patten package - the functional constituency and the election committee proposals - are laudable from the democratic viewpoint. But I do not believe they are reasonable interpretations of the leeway left in the Basic Law. There are three ways to change a law or legal system: fight for its formal amendment or abolition, but accept its jurisdiction in the meantime - that is, act as the ''loyal opposition''; practice ''civil disobedience'' and trade punishment with moral righteousness in the hope the latter will prevail; violate it and evade punishment by launching a rebellion or a revolution. Whether we want to practice ''civil disobedience'' against China to get ''a little bit more democracy'' is a moot point. Costs and benefits need to be balanced. Miss Emily Lau Wai-hing seems to be more consistent than most. Given the wrath of China, why not go for a fully directly elected Legco in 1995? The United Democrats and Meeting Point should rethink. While I regard China's response to the Patten package to be extreme, I am sceptical of Britain's motives in pushing for more democracy. Firstly, the British Government has never clearly explained why it decided to leave aside the understanding reached inthe seven diplomatic exchanges of the early months of 1990. Secondly, it has as yet to give us any grounds for believing the ''more democratic'' system it is pushing for will last beyond 1997. While the prospect of an ''honourable retreat'' for Britain is enhanced, Hongkong people will have to foot the bill, if there is a political backlash after 1997. There is reason to believe the change in Britain's policy towards China, symbolised clearly by the sacking of Lord Wilson, was engineered after the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union in August 1991, but before the full impact of Mr Deng Xiaoping's reforms became clear. When he designed his political package last summer, Mr Patten probably had no idea China would become the world's largest economy in 20 years, as predicted by The Economist recently. My own projection is that China will become so in 12 years. In other words, Britain's change in policy was based on the assumption of a weak China in the aftermath of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The reality is a China which has recovered from the Tiananmen tragedy and economic retrenchment, and which has become increasingly confident of its emerging economic might. China must have been equally surprised at the way in which Mr Patten, with the full backing of Prime Minister Mr John Major, launched his offensive. Its fear of a ''new cold war'' in the making is understandable. The present deadlock is a classic education in the role of surprises in politics. I am a pragmatic democrat, in the sense that I wish to participate in and contribute to the democratic development of Hongkong in the long-run, not just 600 days of pre-1997 ''democracy''. After all, the Basic Law states that ultimately the entire legislature in Hongkong will be elected by universal suffrage (Article 68) - the hallmark of ''democracy'' in most people's eyes. IF THAT promise is at stake or fulfilled only after an agonising delay, I would need to think twice before giving my support to Mr Patten. Unfortunately, many of the ''democrats'' have been preoccupied with seizing the moral high ground. They do not even have time for questions with a long-term view. Economists are, however, trained to differentiate between short-term and long-term maximisation of benefits. The two frequently contradict one another. As a nationalist, what is my attitude towards the present Chinese regime? I believe China deserves to be strong after imperialist plunders and communism. The present regime is a product of sad historical complexities. It is undemocratic by Western standards, but market improvements, curbs on the political authoritarianism of the Communist Party and the introduction of legal rules have taken place. The economic reform this has unleashed is unparalleled. Tremendous improvements in living standards have been achieved. Lamentably for the party cadre, this may not yield much on the scoreboard of the ''democrats''. China is no late Ching empire, rotten beyond rescue. If it were, no righteous democrat or freedom lover would have any hesitation in picking up arms, or at least disobeying it in a ''civil'' (non-revolutionary) manner. As a nationalist, one has to be concerned with the costs and benefits to the common people of the country, of overthrowing a political regime. Given time and patience, China could become both economically powerful and politically democratic, in that order, without unnecessary violence. But it also needs some arm-twisting from time to time. I find comfort in embracing a wider mixture of values (nationalism, democracy, and pragmatism) and looking more deeply into the interaction between the ideal and the realistic, in both the short and the long-term, than many of my critics. Dr Tsang Shu-kiis a senior lecturer in economics at the Hongkong Baptist College. He was a founding member of Meeting Point, but left the party recently.