September 6th 2003


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COVER STORY: How to help democracy in Hong Kong

Australian Senate backs Hong Kong democrats against China

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Government stumbles over Manildra, Tuckey fiascos

STRAWS IN THE WIND: J'accuse / Shape of things to come

WATER: Murray River farmers face man-made 'permanent drought'

NATIONAL PARTY: Why John Anderson should stay

LETTERS: Sugar price

LETTERS: Rail the key to rural infrastructure

LETTERS: Amrozi death sentence

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EDUCATION HISTORY: Social justice in education - self-interest disguised as altruism

FAMILY: Quick facts on marriage

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Australian Senate backs Hong Kong democrats against China


by Victor Sirl

News Weekly, September 6, 2003
Victor Sirl recently travelled to Canberra with Martin Lee, leader of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong and world-renowned human rights activist. This article was written while Mr Lee was concluding his stay in Australia.

Was it 500,000, was it 750,000 or was it, as some reporters stated, one million people who marched through the streets of Hong Kong in support of democracy and in opposition to Article 23 on July 1? Whatever the number, it shocked the world.

While in Australia, Mr Martin Lee from Hong Kong's Democratic Party explained the nature of the struggle for democracy by the people of Hong Kong.

He was so effective in this regard that as a direct result of his visit, on the morning of his departure from Canberra a motion was passed unanimously in the Senate in support of this cause.

However, before discussing the content of the motion, some background on the historic march for freedom is required.

Hand-back

In 1997, when Britain handed back Hong Kong to China, it did so with a guarantee that the people of Hong Kong would have their rights and freedoms preserved for fifty years.

As Mr Lee pointed out, Deng Xiaoping mentioned fifty years probably because he thought that China would take at least that time to catch up with Hong Kong. Indeed, many around the world had hoped China would become more like Hong Kong rather than the reverse.

Sadly, in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the crackdown on Falun Gong, Beijing seemed more concerned about exercising greater control over the lives of its people.

During his visit, including the breakfast with parliamentarians arranged by Michael Johnson MP (who was born in Hong Kong, lived there as child and later worked there), Mr Lee repeatedly said that Beijing must place its trust in the people of Hong Kong. Earlier, at a forum in Sydney University, he stated that the people of Hong Kong did not want independence but rather were dedicated to making the declared policy of Deng Xiaoping "one country, two systems" work smoothly.

In fact, Mr Lee frequently quoted Deng Xiaoping and seems to appreciate the deceased leader's role in attempting to move China forward both economically and politically.

He also believes the people of Hong Kong accept the new Chinese leadership and hopes they will begin a shift in policy towards placing greater trust in the population of Hong Kong to run their own affairs as part of China.

In 1984 the Sino-British Declaration was signed with a pledge that when the British handed Hong Kong back on July 1, 1997, China would preserve the existing rights and freedoms of its people for the next half-century. Hence the organisers of the march chose this historic day to protest in the streets.

They were protesting because Beijing had attempted to use its numbers in the Legislative Council to enact laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law (Hong Kong's constitution), covering such issues as treason and sedition, that would seriously erode the freedoms enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong.

Only 24 out of 60 members of this body are democratically elected and most of the rest are effectively appointees of Beijing. Yet under the Basic Law it is stated that it is possible for Hong Kong to eventually elect them all, as well as the Chief Executive who is currently chosen by an "election committee" of 800 people, the great majority of whom are under the influence, if not control, of Beijing.

Stalled

Democracy is what Mr Lee and those who marched want. But without the numbers, things looked bleak. However, four days after the march the legislation of Article 23 was put on hold and a number of concessions sought by the opposition were agreed upon. It was a beginning in the right direction.

The people in Hong Kong are doing their part in peacefully striving for their freedoms and democracy, but they need help from governments around the world. That is why Mr Lee came to Australia to ask for the support that has been expressed by the European Parliament, British Parliament and the Congress in the United States.

He met privately with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, and Kevin Rudd the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. He also met the New Zealand's Prime Minister who rearranged a busy schedule to see him and is most supportive of his cause.

To his credit the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, in response to a last minute request with no time free for an official meeting in his schedule, managed to drop in while Mr Lee was meeting Mark Vaile.

While all these meetings were taking place, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja was working to get a motion agreed upon that both the Government and Opposition would support. She saved Australia's honour in this matter.

The Senators must also be congratulated, for the wording of their resolution was strong and clear in its message. A number of Government Senators clearly had sympathy for this cause and wanted to do what has been ruled out in the lower house so far, despite the Chinese Embassy sending all Senators a letter urging them not to support any motion on the subject.

Perhaps Tony Abbott the leader of government business in that place, will see fit to make good his boast in his foreword to the book The Twilight of The Elites that he supports Western values, not because "they are ours" but because, "they are capable of being adopted by anyone, any place, any time".

Surely those values underpinning democracy are the greatest of these and it is obvious the people of Hong Kong feel the time and place are right to enact them.

Deep concern

In the five-part motion that was passed, the Senate expressed "its concern that the draft legislation prepared in accordance with Hong Kong's requirement to introduce national security legislation could encroach on the rights and liberties of the people of Hong Kong".

It noted the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong guaranteed under the Sino-British Declaration and recalled Australia's support for this document. It welcomed improvements to Article 23 legislation and looked "forward to ... democratic governance in the Hong Kong Legislative Council".

In the final part it urged the Chinese Government not to "diminish individual rights and liberties that are fundamental to the democratic process".

John Howard arrived back in Australia during Mr Lee's visit. Unfortunately, when making arrangements to visit here, Mr Lee was unaware of the Prime Minister's trip to China.

Mr Howard had returned with news that discussions on a free trade agreement were progressing well and that the Chinese President would be visiting Australia.

Combined with the previous announcement of China purchasing $25 billion of natural gas from Australia, Mr Howard has certainly staged a foreign affairs coup.

But it must be remembered that Australia is rich in natural resources and will have many commodities in demand from a growing Chinese economy. Increased trade is inevitable, but of course negotiations can be made easier if we avoid pressing human rights issues with Beijing.

However, if Australia follows that approach to gain economic advantage, we could offend Europe, Great Britain and the United States, and any economic gains could be temporary.

The great challenge for John Howard, if he is progress from his much deserved reputation as a master politician to master statesman, is to gain trade benefits from China while making at least as strong a stance on human rights as other Western nations.

For not only this, but our nation's place in history, it is important that he succeed because if he fails, our international standing as a champion of human rights will be damaged. After all, how can you support war to implement democracy in Iraq and not support peaceful efforts to obtain it in Hong Kong?

During his visit to Australia Mr Lee has attended many forums and met a number of politicians.

He has received media coverage as diverse as the Australian Financial Review and a radio interview with Phillip Adams.

In fact, a camera crew and reporters from an international Chinese television channel based in the USA have been following his trip, including filming his arrival in Canberra.

A reporter from the Epoch Times, an international Chinese newspaper, is also following his visit. So, Chinese communities around the world will receive coverage of his efforts in Australia. Mr Lee is a champion of their desire to spread democracy.

Local communities

Many hundreds of people from the Australian Taiwanese and Chinese communities have flocked to hear him speak. At just one of his meetings in Sydney, with proceedings conducted in Madarin and Cantonese, 470 people attended.

Yet these meetings pale in comparison to the march in Hong Kong, where people waited for hours in the hot sun to step out of the gates of Victoria Park to be counted by the police.

In the end, there were too many to count, certainly more than one estimate of 500,000.

People in Hong Kong have never demonstrated against their own government, and have never known democracy. So when they marched it surprised the world. Why?

Should we not know by now that when it is suppressed humanity cries out for freedom from "anyone, any place, any time"? Let's support its appeal.




























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