NEWS of Hong Kong journalist Xi Yang's arrest by the Chinese authorities on October 7 hit Hong Kong - and the media community in particular - like a meteorite. The main concern, because of the way the media has presented the issue, centres around press freedom now and after 1997. However, if we think rationally it is not difficult to see that the direct issue here is a dispute between a journalist and the Chinese authorities. It is mere speculation, and a totally unfounded one, to assert the Chinese Government is doing this in order to suppress freedom of the press. The highly emotional reaction of Legislative Councillor Emily Lau Wai-hing on television was dramatic. With her face contorted and eyes open wide, one could get her point by looking at her. This kind of reaction is more likely to generate a confrontationthan a solution. The words of our elementary physics teachers come to mind: for every action, there is a reaction. Now we have had time to digest information relating to the incident, we can perhaps calm down and take another look at what has happened. First, journalists are as qualified as anyone, if not more so because of the nature of their work, to be recruited for certain government services. There are many historical records of journalists being engaged in activities which are not part of their profession. Therefore, before the facts become known, it is vain and unfair to take a position stating one side or the other is in the wrong. Yu Pun-hoi, the chairman of Xi's newspaper, Ming Pao, said he had reason to believe (after talking to the Chinese authorities) that, in his opinion and judgment, Xi was guilty. Having no better information on hand, I think it is grossly unfair of some people to say Mr Yu is surrendering Hong Kong's press freedom to China. But is there anything wrong with waiting a little longer for more facts to surface? Every country has its system of governing the people. In Saudi Arabia, females exposing their arms are liable to be arrested. In Singapore, if one forgets to flush the toilet, a fine is due. The Chinese legal system is different from ours. In general, the scope of Chinese law is broad and there is tremendous leeway in its application. The reasons for the current legal situation in China are historical as well as cultural, and rapid changes would be unrealistic. The Chinese Government is aware of this. which is why President Jiang Zemin said last week China needed 30,000 lawyers urgently. Of course, getting lawyers is far from enough to solve the problem, but the awareness is significant and it is clear the Chinese are doing something about the situation. However, dealing with affairs concerning such an overwhelmingly large population takes time. Another problem is the so-called Middle Kingdom mentality. That is to say, Chinese officials tend to have inadequate understanding about situations outside China. The open-door policy helps, but the learning curve is long. People enforcing the law still suffer from the remnants of the revolutionary war mentality. Although the younger generation is more relaxed, the older people, who have fought all their lives, have to take time to wind down. It should be clear by now what I am driving at, namely, that both sides of the dispute should have more consideration for each other. The Chinese Government should further clarify all regulations and laws which may affect journalists working in China. And in case of any violation of these laws and regulations, a consistent and objective process should take place, perhaps with the assistance of an internationally represented advisory committee, much like the Hai Ji Hui, which handles disputes between the mainland and Taiwan without violating Chinese sovereignty. On the other hand, journalists working in China should also take the trouble of consulting the proper authority. It might be feasible for the Chinese authorities to set up a hotline through the Chinese Journalists' Association, so that when journalists come across grey areas concerning the conduct of their work, they could call and find out their legal position. China must realise that providing a welcoming and convenient environment for journalists should be an integral part of China's reform and open-door policy. And China should recognise the contribution of both Chinese and foreign journalists in providing stimulation and playing a monitoring role in society. Inevitably, sooner or later, the Chinese officials will have to further develop a constructive relationship between themselves and the journalists. Western politicians and government officials spend more than half their time on such matters. In many countries, people settle their disputes in ways quite different from the usual practice in the West. In reality, I come probably close to the mark by saying that in terms of numbers there are more disputes settled by mediation than through court of law. Taken to its extreme, frequent legal action could go so far as to paralyse society. In the United States, for example, people sue one another so often lawsuits get to the point of becoming a great hindrance to the normal functioning of society. Before China can fully develop her legal system, mediation is still a valid means. That is why many Hong Kong people have expressed their views to the Chinese Government about the Xi incident, in the hope of helping to resolve the situation. This is part of a normal process not to be slighted. I urge the Chinese Government to exercise leniency regarding Xi, especially if his conduct falls in the grey area, because we all need time to understand each other. China's reform and open-door policy has been in existence for only a little more than 10 years, which is hardly a drop in the ocean of China's history. It takes little imagination to see that both sides ought to be a little more patient. Whatever the outcome of Xi's trial, I urge the Chinese Government to let the details be known, for this act in itself would become an important part of the mutual communication and discovery process.