No flaw in Beijing's choice of advisers

CHINA'S appointment of 49 people, from prominent businessmen to grassroots representatives, as new Hongkong Affairs Advisers has been widely held by the media as another Chinese exercise in indulging itself.It is both expected and unfair.

Since Tiananmen Square the Hongkong media has taken a persistently negative view of almost everything China does, particularly in connection with Hongkong.

It does not seem to matter that the Chinese economy has grown remarkably at a time of world recession and the livelihood of the Chinese people has substantially improved.

Nor the fact the Patten political reform proposals are by any measure of common sense, clearly against the spirit of the Joint Declaration, the Basic Law and the diplomatic exchanges between Britain and China (David Frost in his BBC programme suggested Mr Chris Patten was exploiting the grey areas in the Joint Declaration, which amounts to the same thing).

And it is unfair because to say the Hongkong Affairs Advisers, whether from the first or second batch, are predominantly pro-China yes-men is an insult to the integrity of these men and women.

Sir David Akers-Jones, who must be respected for his courage in accepting the appointment despite the rage of his countrymen, served the British administration for decades and stands to gain little personally in singing China's tunes.

Take the vice-chancellors and pro vice-chancellors of the universities. They have done nothing on record that kowtowed to Beijing. To accept appointments, they have to brave opposition from students and the faculty, and possibly the displeasure of the University and Polytechnics Grants Committee.

Dr Daniel Tse, president of the Baptist College and former Executive and Legislative Councillor, has a long association with the colonial power establishment. His experience in higher education and government will greatly enhance the quality of advice the Chinese will obtain. I can see no flaw in his appointment.

Then there is the trio of Mr Wong Siu-lun, Mr Lau Siu-kai and Mr Lee Ming-kwan, the academics who have for the past decade been researching and writing on Hongkong politics.

NOTHING they have said is particularly complimentary to the Chinese. China must be complimented for taking their scholarly views seriously.

In the case of politicians, it is harder to say the appointments are wholly impartial. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hongkong, the major pro-China political group here, has its chairman Mr Tsang Yuk-sing as well as committee members Mr Tam Yiu-chung, Ms Chan Yuen-han and key members Ms Elsie Leung and Mr Yeung Yiu-chung, newly appointed as advisers.

Mr Cheng Yiu-tong and Mr Cheng Kai-nam of the same party were appointed last year. The DAB can claim seven out of the 93 advisers. Given the increasingly significant role the DAB is playing in local politics, that does not appear to be an unreasonable number.

The second most significant grouping of politicians among the advisers comes from the Liberal Party. Mr Allen Lee, Mr Stephen Cheong, Mr Ngai Shiu-kit and Mr Stephen Poon have all taken on, apart from their Legco positions, the additional role of advisers.

These gentlemen are all Legco members appointed by previous governors, and represent the Hongkong establishment on which the colonial administration had, until the arrival of Mr Patten, always relied to buttress its governance. Those from the Liberal Party would, therefore, have a different perspective from DAB members, who come mostly from the grassroots. China can do well listening to both groups.

In the case of tycoons like Mr Li Ka-shing, Mr Cheng Yu-tung, Mr Peter Woo, Mr Lee Shau-kee and Mr Robert Kuok, their companies' stakes in Hongkong and overseas are much bigger than those in China, although all have made substantial investments on the mainland.

None of these tycoons and few of the other businessmen among the advisers have displayed political leanings, and certainly not towards Beijing. It may be remembered that Mr Li made a donation to the British Conservative Party a few years ago. To say the advisers from the business community are Chinese lackeys is contrived.

An often heard criticism about the recent appointments is that none of the politicians who supported the Patten proposals have been appointed. It must be understood that, as China is seeking out individuals to advise it on Hongkong affairs, it must respect the opinion of those whom it appoints. To China, the reasons why the Patten proposals are unacceptable are abundantly clear, and anyone who accepts the Patten deal is lacking both in common sense and love for the country.

On the other hand, if the appointment of Hongkong Affairs Advisers, as some commentators suggested, is another Chinese exercise in building a united front with the connotation that it is all show and no substance, then China could have included some Patten supporters among the appointees and just pay lip service.

AS A Hongkong Affairs Adviser attending the meetings in Beijing, I did not witness any Patten bashing, but heard many advisers asking China to tread cautiously in setting up its separate kitchen. Many urged the Chinese to continue to pursue dialogue withLondon. If anyone was there trying to please the Chinese, I did not have the pleasure of being in the audience when they did.

In criticising China for failing to appoint critics, the media has displayed an astonishing double standard. No one appeared to mind Mr Patten not putting any of his critics on the Executive Council, nor him limiting his Legco appointments to democrats such as Ms Christine Loh Kung-wai and Ms Anna Wu Hung-yuk.

After all, the Hongkong Affairs Advisers are merely advisers, whereas Mr Patten is appointing his think-alikes to positions of power in Exco and Legco. Solicitor Carson Wen is a Hongkong Affairs Adviser to Beijing, delegate to the Guangdong People's Congress and former member of Kwun Tong District Board.