SCMP Saturday, March 10, 2001

Time to be more mute with cult

President Jiang Zemin has, by and large, backed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa against accusations that the SAR administration has been too lenient with the Falun Gong, the spiritual movement banned on the mainland but legal in Hong Kong.
Speaking on Monday ahead of a Beijing meeting with Mr Tung, Mr Jiang pledged support for the SAR Government to tackle the Falun Gong issue in its own way. He said this was in line with the principles of "stability before anything else" and "one country, two systems".
Mr Jiang said mainland authorities would not tolerate the "evil cult" of the Falun Gong, but left space for Hong Kong to handle the issue within its own jurisdiction.
This has made a mockery of local pro-China elements eager to take advantage of the current session of the National People's Congress (NPC) to score political points at the expense of the SAR Government and the Falun Gong.
On March 2, Xu Simin, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), accused Mr Tung of acting weakly in tackling Falun Gong activities in Hong Kong. Mr Xu said unless Mr Tung took a harder line, he would seek to remove the Chief Executive from office. Mr Xu is the first person to make such a threat. His radical position has exposed his ignorance of and disregard for the rule of law. He obviously has an inflated view of his powers as a CPPCC member, thinking he is empowered to kick the Chief Executive out of office.
The procedure for removing the Chief Executive from office is spelled out in Article 73(9) of the Basic Law. A quarter of the 60 members of the Legislative Council must jointly initiate a motion charging the Chief Executive with serious breach of law or dereliction of duty. If the Chief Executive refuses to budge, Legco may then pass a motion of investigation and give the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal, Andrew Li Kwok-nang, a mandate to form and chair an independent investigation committee. The committee must report to Legco whether the evidence substantiates the charges. A motion of impeachment in Legco would need to pass by a two-thirds majority and would then be forwarded to the central Government for a final decision.
CPPCC delegates such as Mr Xu have no role in this procedure. Mr Xu's threat to seek the Chief Executive's impeachment shows a gross disregard of the Basic Law and the "one country, two systems" principle.
Tsang Hin-chi, a member of the NPC's Standing Committee, is much shrewder. Before leaving for the Beijing meetings, Mr Tsang told reporters he had prepared a large amount of material on the activities in Hong Kong of the Falun Gong and pro-democracy activists. He vowed to raise the issue at the NPC meeting. However, he quickly saw that organisers of the NPC and CPPCC meetings did not want Hong Kong delegates to make a fuss over the SAR authorities' handling of the Falun Gong. He then shut up and followed Beijing's cue, adding he found mainland officials to be well informed on the topic.
Meanwhile, the Falun Gong's staunchest critic within the administration is the Secretary for Security, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. She has to take a tough line against the Falun Gong in her official capacity, and the public appreciates the need to monitor whether the sect has abused the SAR's freedoms to plot against the central Government. But Mrs Ip's arrogance is counter-productive. She has made comments based on her limited knowledge of religious doctrine. These ill-considered remarks have handed pro-democracy activists ammunition to use against the Government.
For example, she accused the Falun Gong of being financially resourceful and well enough organised to mobilise global actions. She also denounced the movement for promoting superstition, including encouraging sick followers to shun medical treatment. But many religious groups share these characteristics.
As a result, even mainstream religious organisations, which normally avoid politics, voiced concern. They are worried the Government could apply similar nonsensical yardsticks to them. Their anxiety is legitimate.
Mrs Ip even managed to sow fear in entertainment circles. Film director Tsui Hark was taken aback when the Secretary for Security associated the Falun Gong with his latest production, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain. The movie is to be shown in mainland cinemas, and the last thing Tsui wants is to become caught up in a political controversy that has nothing to do with him.
Mrs Ip should be more prudent in her public comments. A few soundbites from her can inflict considerable damage to the SAR's image, here and abroad. Mr Jiang and Mr Tung are politically astute enough not to give off-the-cuff remarks that could undermine confidence in the SAR.
The Secretary for Security should learn from her superiors. She should do nothing more than affirm the Government's concerns about the sect's activities and pledge that the authorities will act in accordance with local statutes. Anything beyond that is unwarranted.
The Public Order Ordinance and other local laws are enough to prevent the Falun Gong or any other group from undermining Hong Kong's stability. Public opinion will be on the side of the Government to take action, should any group overstep the boundaries of the law. Unless and until that happens, officials and office holders should refrain from rocking the boat themselves.
Albert Cheng King-hon ( ) is a broadcaster and former publisher.