HONG Kong has been reluctant to talk too loudly about corruption in China, for fear of giving offence. But since the Chinese Communist Party now openly acknowledges corruption to be one of the country's most serious problems, and since President Jiang Zemin is himself leading the campaign against it, there can be no more reason for concealing our concern. In a liberal, open society, corruption can be beaten. We know that to be the case, because we beat it here in Hong Kong in 1970s. I do not mean that every form of corruption was wiped out. But I do mean that the serious, systematic corruption was beaten.Corruption which threatened the integrity of government and which undermined the forces of law and order was beaten. Corruption in business became the exception rather than the rule. Hong Kong beat corruption because it understood the rule of law and was prepared to enforce the rule of law. It had enough tough, impartial, honest civil servants to organise an effective anti-corruption agency. It had an independent judiciary and legal system willing to try, and where necessary, convict government officials and police officers. It recognised a clear division between public and private interests. And the people running its government put the welfare of society before their own and their families' enrichment. In present-day China, unfortunately, very few of those conditions exist. Absolute power is concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party which is, to all intents and purposes, a secret society. There are no checks and balances to its powers, no constitutional or institutional means to correct its abuses. As a result, when senior members of the Party and their families decide to cash in their power, to sell their connections and their influence for personal profit, there is no courtroom or police force or body of public opinion strong enough to restrain them. We know well enough in Hong Kong, often from direct experience, how immense the problem of corruption has become for the Communist Party. A scandal like the Great Wall Machinery and Electronics High-Technology Industrial Corporation, which raised one billion yuan by junk bonds then squandered the lot on bribes, incompetent management and fast living, is exceptional only in that it has been publicly acknowledged. Thankfully it is not our job to try to reverse this moral collapse within China. But we can and must take the toughest line against a resurgence of corruption in Hong Kong, even where Chinese interests and influence are involved. We cannot make exceptions to accommodate possible political timidity, or we undermine the principle of equality before the law. The burden of fighting corruption falls upon all of us. We expect the ICAC and the police to be our front-line troops, and rightly so. But are we giving them enough help and support? Is the press, which prides itself on its investigative skills and its outspoken reporting, doing enough to expose corruption? Are businessmen doing enough to defend our system? After all, it takes at least two parties to commit a corrupt act. Let us also ensure that the Government is placing corruption high on its public agenda. Let us have the workings of government be made as open and as transparent as possible. Secrecy hides corruption. Openness exposes it. If we fail to punish corruption, then we punish those members of our society who prefer to remain honest and law-abiding. We weaken those very bonds of trust and decency which hold our society together. Christine Loh and Emily Lau will be writing on alternate Mondays.