IN the film Casablanca, police Captain Louis Renault closes Rick's Cafe Americain, expressing shock - as he collects his winnings - to discover that there is gambling on the premises. The Beijing officials given the task of ordering the closure of the Giordano store there appear similarly disingenuous. The shop had been open for a month on the main shopping street but no one noticed that the proprietors had failed to complete the licensing documentation. The realisation dawned after officials had spotted that Giordano's chairman, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, had written a column in his Next magazine using abuse to describe Chinese Premier Li Peng as, among other things, an illegitimate person of no great intelligence. Mr Lai would have to have been exceptionally naive not to expect a strong response to that sort of calculated provocation. Beijing's retaliation is characterised by the Chinese proverb about killing the chicken and letting the monkey watch. Mr Lai is being punished and Beijing is trying to muzzle his magazine. But if China is unhappy with what anyone in Hong Kong is saying or doing, it has many legitimate ways of expressing its opinions. In this case, an angry verbal reply to one of the territory's most successful businessmen would have excited the interest of all Hong Kong news outlets - not least the pro-communist Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao. In an open society, there is no need to express displeasure by using commercial weapons - and no excuse for doing so. In an open society, there is no excuse for using bullying tactics to muzzle, or punish, critics and the media. This is not the first time that China has tried to exert economic pressure to achieve political ends. In the recent past, Beijing has put pressure on companies not to advertise in some Hong Kong newspapers deemed to be unfriendly to the Chinese authorities. As 1997 approaches, Beijing may feel increasingly tempted to exert such pressure. It would be wise to resist. While the territory's business people are aware of the dangers of incurring China's displeasure, Beijing would be wise to exercise self-restraint. Bullying is unattractive and will repel Hong Kong people, who are used to their relative freedom and to spirited debate. The action against Giordano will increase anxieties about life after 1997. Beijing should be trying to calm them.