The stationing of People's Liberation Army troops in Hong Kong has always been a sensitive subject because many local residents find them intimidating. This negative impression of the PLA is certainly not helped by the recently reported row between Customs officials and Major-General Zhou Borong, who is in command of the PLA advance guard and will be one of the top brass based here after the handover. This newspaper revealed last Friday that General Zhou had lodged a complaint against Customs officers who requested he produce a 'closed road' permit while crossing the Lok Ma Chau closed zone late last month. Until early this week the Government was keeping very quiet on the subject. When approached by the media to confirm whether General Zhou had refused to produce the permit and had later lodged a complaint and demanded the Hong Kong authorities 'educate subordinates so that they do not abuse the PLA', the Government merely gave an evasive reply which led some people to construe it as indirect confirmation such an incident had indeed occurred. On Monday an anonymous caller to a radio phone-in programme - who claimed to be a member of Customs staff - sent a fax alleging that after the reported incident a superior of his had instructed Customs staff that in future if they came across people who claimed to be PLA personnel they should not create difficulties for them. The fax also suggested the senior Customs official had presented his staff with a list of 29 car number-plates, telling his staff not to stop vehicles bearing them from entering Hong Kong. The morale of Customs staff is said to have been badly hit by this disturbing event, which has them wondering whether the PLA is above the law. One angry phone-in caller said it was unreasonable for General Zhou to complain against Customs officers since he was the one in the wrong. The strong reaction of Hong Kong people to the PLA's conduct is understandable because so many stories have been told about how powerful the Chinese army is and what superior status it enjoys. For Hong Kong people, the Lok Ma Chau border incident would only reconfirm their worst fear that the Chinese soldiers are so used to abusing their power that they do not think they need to observe the rules and laws of Hong Kong. What the Government needs to do now is not to avoid the allegation but to investigate it properly - to check whether there is indeed a complaint from General Zhou and find out whether anyone has really issued an 'instruction' as claimed by that anonymous caller. This is important because, if General Zhou's attitude was bad enough, more unsettling and disturbing should be the alleged order from a senior Customs official. What is most worrying is that civil servants may be expected to second-guess what is acceptable to mainland officials and military personnel and act accordingly without any regard to local laws. It will prove to be very damaging to Hong Kong if we allow political correctness to dictate the way our civil servants perform their duties. If we do not think it right that mainland officials - be they the PLA or officers from other ministries and departments - should abuse their power and enjoy special privileges, Hong Kong civil servants must carry out their duties within the parameters of our rules and laws. When we in Hong Kong talk about 'one country, two systems' and the need to preserve our fine systems and traditions, our first step must be to uphold the legal system ourselves, not throw it away.