Talking frankly, former chief justice Yang Ti Liang said recently that it would not be possible to define in great detail the crucial concept of national security in a set of proposed amendments to civil liberties laws. 'If people have no trust towards the Special Administrative Region government, it will not help no matter how you put it in the law,' he said. The public, the SAR Executive Councillor said, should give a vote of trust in the future government that they would not abuse the laws and whittle down rights and freedoms after July 1. Mr Yang's remarks pinpoint the reason the consultative exercise has emerged as a debate more over fundamental political inclinations than about specifics in a piece of legislation. For many, the fact of the matter is whether they think Tung Chee-hwa and his top advisers are nice guys and their proposals are well-intended and therefore, worthy of their backing - even though some crucial 'details' are yet to be clarified. In short, it is a question of whether Mr Tung and his cabinet is trustworthy. As the consultation nears its end next Wednesday, the focus of the consultation has focused more markedly on politics than the legal and practical aspects of the proposed legislative changes. But that should come as no surprise. At issue is not just a question of a gap in the law after midnight on June 30, but a political row between China and Britain over the 'drastic amendments' made by the Government to the statute book. And the consultative document does not merely address a specific question of how the rights of freedom to peaceful assembly and association should be translated into law, but a more fundamental question of how to deal with the mainland after July 1. The China factor, which underpinned the issue, has inevitably politicised and become the major dividing line in the debate. Against this background, it came as little surprise that the pro-China camp has, over the past week, mounted a massive propaganda campaign to help ward off the attacks against the proposals, the first formulated by the Tung team. Over the past week, left-wing unions, Chinese-funded companies and pro-China youth groups have come up with terse press statements and newspaper advertisements to 'firmly support' the proposed amendments. According to a statement issued by the Hong Kong Eastern District Community Association comprising pro-China groups in the district, the British Hong Kong Government has unilaterally made drastic changes to the two ordinances before its retreat from the territory. 'These amendments have clearly contravened the Basic Law. Our association firmly supports your proposed amendments to the two ordinances,' it said in a submission to the Chief Executive-designate's office. Ironically, the consultative document itself does not give a hint of which provisions in the two ordinances are not in line with the Basic Law. Nor will the Chief Executive-designate's office be able to give an answer because the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, which has decided to invalidate in part the two ordinances, has not specified why. The essence of the NPC Standing Committee's ruling is not that specific parts of the two ordinances are in contradiction with the Basic Law. It is more a political ruling by the top Chinese legislative body that some provisions of the ordinances are not politically acceptable. The political nature of the issue inevitably set the scene of the three-week-long consultation. Being put in the difficult position of defending what many see as the indefensible, Mr Tung and his team have, as expected, encountered severe challenges to their proposals. As the avalanche of criticism has taken on a political hue, the counter-lobbying campaign from China's local sympathisers was also to be expected. Said Preparatory Committee member Lau Siu-kai: 'The opposition has become so strong that the pro-China force has decided to fight back against the criticism. You may call it a declaration of political stance or allegiance.' He warned that the consultation had become 'emotionalised, politicised and personalised'. Professor Lau said: 'The issue should be a question of changes to the laws. People should support their views and refute others with evidence and arguments. It's not a game of numbers of support. 'Any irrational debate will grow into a confrontation between pro-China forces and the pro-democracy camp and a standoff between China and Hong Kong. This will impede the further development of consensus on the issue in society.' The dilemma for the future government is that there is little it can do to steer the debate. With no track record of their performance, Mr Tung and his top advisers have no evidence to convince the sceptics in the community that there are no sinister motives behind their proposals. The non-political sector, such as those in professional groups and academic circles, also have reasonable doubts and questions over the ambiguities in terminology of the proposals. Like it or not, the future government can only be assured of the 'political backing' from the pro-China force and guarded support from some business bodies. But the 'all-out' support from the pro-China camp for the proposals is more of a mixed blessing. Loyal 'political backing' from the pro-China force will fuel doubts in the community about whether there is any behind-the-scenes influence from Beijing. It will also focus public attention even more on the political aspects of the proposals, making it difficult for the Chief Executive-designate's office to solicit more views on their details. With too much at stake politically, the room for manoeuvre for Mr Tung and his advisers when making a final decision on the amendments to the two ordinances will be further limited. Two of his top post-handover officials Michael Suen Ming-yeung and Elsie Leung Oi-sie have made separate appeals for supporters of their proposals to make their voices heard. Mr Suen said the 'silent majority' should speak up, noting there has been considerable 'negative' comment about the proposals. As well-intentioned as this may be, the official's call might send a wrong message to the pro-China forces that it is high time for them to defend the proposed amendments - and the authority and credibility of the future government. By pegging the fate of their proposals on a degree of public trust in the future government, Mr Tung and his team will only push themselves into an even more difficult position. The public will judge the trustworthiness of the SAR leadership on whether it means what it says: a consultation is a consultation. The public does have a say on what should be in the law.