Few organisations do as much selfless good work as Rotary. The global service group has no politics, except good fellowship, and preaches no sermons, apart from urging members to help their communities. But now, because of a silly misunderstanding, there seems to be an appalling misconception about Rotary among some Chinese officials. Let's hope this can be swiftly straightened out; China and Rotary are made for each other. The organisation has a vast and influential global membership of businessmen and professionals. A strong Rotary presence in China could be of enormous benefit to the country. The misunderstanding in Shanghai which has caused concern to Rotarians here and abroad should be dealt with immediately. There is one obvious figure who could instantly wipe away the notion that Rotary is somehow a dangerous presence. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa knows well the important role Rotary fills in our community. By taking an active stance he would be doing a good turn to a key global business organisation and to China. He should explain to the authorities in Beijing and Shanghai that Rotary is not only harmless in a political sense, but a very active force for progress. The current situation is almost laughable. There was a recent incident in Shanghai in which a junior official in Pudong seemed to mix-up Rotary with the banned Falun Gong sect. Two more different bodies, it would be hard to imagine. But this led to an unpleasant series of incidents in which a group of Rotarians from Seattle were harassed and embarrassed while in Shanghai. This farcical occurrence was made worse because the folks from Seattle were visiting China to hand over a significant amount of money to the Chinese Red Cross. Yet instead of being thanked, they were threatened by clumsy law enforcement officials. Compounding this is a ruling of startling childishness from Rotary's global headquarters in Illinois. It has ordered Rotarians in China not to organise themselves into clubs. The American-based group has also threatened other clubs, including Hong Kong, not to co-operate with Rotarians struggling to operate in the mainland. If China has any doubts about Rotary, all it has to do is look at the organisation in Hong Kong and Macau where 48 active clubs have 1,700 members. Here's just a few of the China programmes that Rotarians in Hong Kong carry out . . . Every year, a Study Exchange brings five Chinese doctors here to look at the latest medical technologies. It also sends five of our medical experts to China. Over the past decade, Rotary has built more than 250 schools all over China. In 1997, one project was to build water storage tanks in remote areas without running water. Under its Ambassadorial Scholarships, it has sent numerous Chinese students to universities overseas. Residents of Zhoi Lin in Jiangxi got $850,000 this year to rebuild village houses and a school after disastrous floods. All this - and a lot more - is done with little fanfare and no headlines. In Beijing, Rotary has been meeting in a discrete manner for at least three years. Because the Chinese authorities will not allow Rotary clubs to be officially chartered, the 40-strong 'Beijing Fellowship Group' meets as a collection of individuals who are members of Rotary clubs elsewhere. Members are mostly senior executives of multi-national companies. Peter Finamore, a hotelier who formerly worked in Hong Kong, is chairman. Rotary is classed by Chinese authorities as a 'community service organisations', he explains. 'All levels of government have been amazingly tolerant,' he notes. 'They have given guidance and assistance in our many projects.' Mr Finamore says Rotarians have 'tried to paddle very softly'. New members are picked with care to 'respect sensitivities of the PRC authorities'. Rotary International refuses to acknowledge the Beijing group, despite visits by hundreds of overseas Rotarians every year. The Beijing-based Rotarians have now formed their own network to keep sympathetic members around the globe up to date. Last year, the Beijing group raised $800,000 for local charities. Mr Finamore points out that although they do not officially have 'club' status, they have in three years gained the trust and confidence of Chinese officials. 'They leave us to get on and do things,' he adds. The fellows in Beijing are getting on with what Rotary does best - doing good. They send children who need open-heart surgery to the USA. With Hong Kong colleagues, they have set up two tented schools for Tibetan nomads in Qinghai province; at 4,000 metres, it has the title 'Highest School in the World'. To mark the 50th anniversary, they bought two ambulances for rural health centres, and are providing schools with used computers from multi-national companies. They are involved deeply in dozens of other projects. 'We could do much more if Rotary International would support us,' says Mr Finamore. Now a third group has set up, in Dalian. A major presence in China can only be good for both the nation and for Rotary. If formally recognised in China, Rotary would not only be of major benefit for the nation's social programmes, but would aid immeasurably in business development. Hopefully, bemused Shanghai officials and Rotary International's self-important czars will wake up to these realities.