China can build up trust

THE Hong Kong Democratic Foundation's (HKDF) decision to write to Lu Ping for an assurance that the rule of law will be above politics in the post-1997 administration is an important reminder to China of Hong Kong's legitimate concerns about the way it will be allowed to run after 1997. Mr Lu, the Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, is not in a position to guarantee absolute respect for the rule of law after 1997, any more than he can guarantee absolute adherence to the Basic Law.

That will depend on the good will and good faith of future Chinese governments, their leaders and their chief executives of the Special Administrative Region. But within the bounds of what is possible, a promise along the lines suggested by the HKDF wouldnonetheless give an enormous filip to confidence in the territory.

Martin Lee Chu-ming's difficulty in finding a legal firm ready to take on his libel action against Simon Li Fook-sean, a leading pro-China figure and former Basic Law drafter, cannot be dismissed lightly. Mr Lee has as much right to impartial legal representation as anyone else.

The firms' refusal showed the legal fraternity has little faith in China's understanding of the lawyer's duty to offer representation to anyone who needs it. It would help boost Hong Kong's faith in China's readiness to develop an understanding of Western-style ideas of the rule of law if Mr Lu were to furnish the assurances for which the HKDF is seeking.

That in turn would help rebuild the community's trust in the Basic Law. The Basic Law is a very loosely-worded document, open to a considerable range of interpretation. It promises an independent judicial system but leaves final interpretation of its own provisions to the very-political Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The more clearly and more explicitly China reaffirms its commitment to the rule of law and to the independence of individual lawyers as well as the legal system, the more relaxed Hong Kong will be.