In his 11-year wait to visit his ailing mother, there must have been times when legislator Lau Chin-shek feared that she might die before he was allowed to set foot in his hometown. That he has been able to go back to see her again is perhaps the most heartwarming event of the year so far. Politically, it would be risky to read too much significance into the granting of a home visit permit to the founder member of a political group the central Government regards as subversive. The door has opened just enough to admit one errant son on humanitarian grounds. There is no suggestion that it will soon be flung wide for others whose political activities are anathema to mainland authorities. The blacklist remains. But it can be lifted. This is an encouraging sign, even when it takes more than a decade. It would have been a telling comment on the distance that remains between Beijing and the people of the SAR if time had run out for Mr Lau and his 93-year-old mother. Instead, this gesture and others of a more practical nature hold out the hope that officials are beginning to recognise the distinction between people's political views and their private lives. The invitation to three Democrats to attend the spring reception hosted by the central Government's Liaison Office last year, and legislator Sin Chung-kai's two work-related trips are cases in point. The more the two sides understand each other, the greater the benefits for both. It was almost laughable when moderate Democrat Fred Li Wah-ming was barred from joining a lychee-picking trip in Guangdong. It was also counter-productive when the mainland authorities denied entry to Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, legislator representing the legal constituency, when she tried to attend a seminar in the Great Hall of the People. Jerome Cohen, professor of Chinese Law at New York University, deplored that decision, saying Beijing was doing itself a disservice by denying people the chance to go there to learn. His remarks were apt as that was precisely what Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa had been urging Beijing's critics to do. Most of Mr Tung's problems stem from the fact that he is seen as championing mainland ideology at the cost of supporting his own citizens. If it now appears that he and Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie were instrumental in persuading the mainland authorities to grant Mr Lau's visiting right, they can expect to see a rise in their popularity ratings. Only a cynic would see any such motive behind the move. But it is an election year in the SAR. It is the pro-Beijing parties, rather than the Democrats, who will benefit by kindly gestures from the mainland. Not that such thoughts will concern Mr Lau as he greets the mother he has been separated from for so long. Who could possibly complain if this gesture turned out to be the forerunner to a relaxation of such harsh and pointless rules?