We are constantly being presented with examples of the growing interface between Hong Kong and the mainland. Eggs from a remote county in Hunan province that contained the banned Sudan Red dye found their way to markets in Hong Kong. Farmers from Qinghai province made headlines when they complained of maltreatment by local tourist guides. Local architects' and accountants' associations have set up offices in Beijing. The list goes on. With the 10th anniversary of the handover approaching and the opening up of the mainland accelerating, the gap between the two places has narrowed. Opinion polls show clearly a deeper sense of awareness among Hongkongers of the inevitability of the city's relationship with the mainland growing increasingly close. 'Hong Kong's roots are in China. Our future is tied to the future of China, economically, socially and politically.' That these words appear near the top of the manifesto of Alan Leong Kah-kit, the pan-democrats' nominee for chief executive, speaks volumes about the change in mindsets. Yet amid the rapid progress across the border, the news that Ching Cheong, his family and supporters had failed to secure a fair, just and open trial for the Hong Kong journalist on spying charges was a harsh reminder that some things have not changed. More than two decades after China adopted a policy of openness and reform, its legal and judicial systems leave much to be desired. To many people, the denial of justice to Ching - whose appeal against a lower court's verdict was rejected on Friday - has laid bare the unwelcome truth that the mainland's judicial system has been used as a tool to serve the political needs of the Communist Party-led government. There is no denying that the background of Ching as a journalist and his broad and long-standing connections with Hong Kong mean much of the support for his case has been loaded with emotion. With details of the matter lacking, supporters can only judge it on the basis of their trust in Ching. Most would like to see Ching, whose health is reportedly deteriorating, walk free from his Beijing prison cell after 20 months in detention. Many had hoped the trial would be conducted in a fair, open and just manner, using systems and practices akin to those adopted in Hong Kong and many other advanced jurisdictions. Expectations had been high that the leadership under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao would improve the functioning of the rule-by-law system as a step towards implementing rule of law. The higher the expectation, the bigger the disappointment. That politics is above the law, as manifested in the case of Ching, is a slap in the face for the wishful thinkers. For long-time patriots like Ching, his peers and those people who look forward to seeing China progress towards modernity, the case has brought a mental shock, followed by a sense of disillusionment, despair and a loss of self-belief. Despite the phenomenal growth of the mainland's economy and the country's increasing diplomatic clout, judicial independence and rule of law remain distant goals. Ching, who graduated from the University of Hong Kong in the early 1970s, was among a minority of intellectuals driven by passion and a love for the motherland to try to work from within mainland-affiliated bodies to help China modernise. Under the innovative policy of 'one country, two systems', he may have held out hopes Hong Kong could play a bigger role in bringing about a united country - one with prosperity and progress. As Ching and many other people reflect on the approaching 10th anniversary of the handover, they cannot but feel helpless and bewildered when faced with the reality that Hong Kong and the mainland seem to be getting nearer, yet are still so far apart.