Whatever one might think of Mao Zedong , the late Chinese leader was never a Chicken Little, running around in fear and shouting: 'The sky is falling.' In fact, Mao was known for daring to think thoughts beyond the ken of most men, and to perform deeds others would consider unimaginable. Thus, when he openly challenged the Soviet Union's leadership of the international communist movement, he told his colleagues that there was nothing to worry about because, 'first of all, nobody will die because of the debate; secondly, the sky will not fall down'. But listening to what Chinese officials are saying about suggestions by some legislators for holding a nonbinding referendum on universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, it seems like the sky is about to fall down. Gao Siren , director of the central government's liaison office, has responded to the suggestion by calling it 'a challenge to the country's constitutional system'; a threat to the nation. Surely China, which is rapidly rising to superpower status, is not so feeble that it feels threatened by a legally nonbinding motion in Legco to hold a legally nonbinding referendum which, in effect, will only be a comprehensive public opinion survey. Of course, this is not to endorse the wisdom of advocating such a course of action. There is absolutely no chance that the government will co-operate and so, in the end, it will be individuals and non-governmental organisations banding together to conduct an opinion survey - a costly, time-consuming and ineffective exercise. It is understandable that many Hong Kong people are angry and frustrated over Beijing's totally unnecessary decision to rule out universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008. That was never going to happen anyway, since such a proposal would never have got off the ground, lacking the necessary two-thirds support in the legislature. It would also never have received the required endorsement from the chief executive. The National People's Congress Standing Committee's interpretation of the Basic Law and its subsequent decision to rule out universal suffrage increased the level of frustration in Hong Kong, especially since the special administrative region's government is seen as siding with Beijing rather than standing up for Hong Kong. The best way to defuse the momentum for a referendum is for the central government to strongly reaffirm its commitment to allow full democracy in Hong Kong at an early date. If Beijing were to say that it does not oppose universal suffrage in 2012, the movement for a referendum would collapse immediately. Unfortunately, however, the central government seems reluctant to allow universal suffrage in 2012 as well and is opposed to a timetable to show Hong Kong people when they can expect full democracy. The liaison office has reportedly told pro-Beijing politicians and businessmen that pushing for democracy in 2012 will add fuel to the fire. Perhaps because of this, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong seems to be backing away from an earlier pledge to support full democracy for that year. This strategy by Beijing will prove counterproductive. Holding out the possibility of democracy in 2012, far from adding fuel to the fire, will give people hope. Telling people that universal suffrage may be just around the corner will cool passions and give people a reason to be patient and moderate. On the other hand, if the central government were to adopt a hard line and come out with a decision to bar universal suffrage in 2012 as well, support for a referendum would surge. Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator firstname.lastname@example.org '