Hong Kong's business community has traditionally been, or appeared to be, indifferent to politics. Now signs abound that it wants to make a difference in the political geography. Addressing an annual business summit this month, Anthony Nightingale, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, urged the business community to 'play an active role' in the consultation and consensus-building process of constitutional reform next year. Citing the failure of the legislative process over the National Security Bill, he said: 'It's absolutely crucial that we consult widely and listen carefully ... We must do it right this time.' The prominent businessman cautioned that the current system was 'dysfunctional' and had created governance problems in the past few years. 'It may be unworkable in the future,' he said. In Beijing, tycoon Peter Woo Kwong-ching told a group of state leaders that there must be 'balanced representation' in the electoral systems for selecting the chief executive and legislature. He called on Beijing to declare publicly that the business and professional sectors would be guaranteed one-quarter of the seats in the legislature in the 2008 elections. Mr Woo, widely seen as a likely candidate to be the next chief executive, was also one of the key speakers at a closed-door seminar on political reform hosted by the One Country Two Systems Research Institute this month. In a related development locally, a group of members from the Democratic Development Network, comprising mostly academics, met leaders of the business-oriented Liberal Party to talk about democratic reforms after 2007. Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said there were reservations among functional constituencies about their Legco seats being abolished. Such activities in different arenas indicates the depth of concern in business circles about the pace of democratisation and, equally important, about whether and how a community consensus can be reached. The pro-democracy lobby is aware of this concern and knows that frank dialogue and open-mindedness are important in assuaging them. This awareness will prove to be crucial at a time when regular exchanges between the wider pro-democracy camp and the business community have been in decline. Some democrats see the business sector as a privileged class in the political ball game, since its leaders can exert influence by talking directly to leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing. They assert businessmen do not believe in democratic elections and have no appetite for changes. Some business people see pro-democratic activists as anti-business, pro-welfare and greedy for labour benefits. Such critics argue that Hong Kong society has yet to develop the institutions necessary for a full democracy, such as a mature political party system. Speaking in Beijing, Mr Woo accurately said there were different opinions within the business sector on universal suffrage - an issue that has turned 'white hot' since the July 1 rally. Known for his strong views on political issues such as functional polls, Mr Woo may not necessarily represent the mainstream view within the business world. Most business people have chosen to remain silent and adopt a wait-and-see attitude. They ought to be convinced, by now, that the status quo is no longer viable and that change is not necessarily bad. Beijing has pledged to listen to Hong Kong people on this important issue. Every individual and sector should feel free to speak up and, more importantly, to listen to what others have to say without prejudice or bias, in a meeting of minds on the road to democracy.