China's Plans for Hong Kong Run Into a Clash of Cultures

JUST one month after starting work, the panel hand-picked by China to supervise its takeover of Hong Kong is in trouble with one of its more democratically inclined members.

The complaints of highhandedness leveled by Frederick Fung, and the responses from the pro-China camp, encapsulate the conflicting political cultures that are bedeviling the historic July 1, 1997, change of sovereignty.

The 150-member Preparatory Committee has been controversial from the outset, accused of being stacked with businessmen and pro-China figures, of freezing out major pro-democracy figures, and of being overly secretive. Its main tasks are to set up the machinery for producing a post-1997 legislature and for selecting a chief executive to succeed the British governor.

In a broadcast on Hong Kong radio Sunday, Mr. Fung, one of the few avowedly pro-democracy figures on the committee, complained that he couldn't get his proposals circulated among his colleagues or make anyone listen to him.

Fung said that at the one full committee meeting he has attended so far, ''there was ... no discussion'' - just a ''decision paper'' read aloud to the panel, which was then asked to vote yes or no.

''Maybe our value system and the interests we represent are quite different from the majority,'' he said.

The pro-China committee members say that Fung's Western concepts of political debate do not mesh with the committee, which is distinctly Chinese and seeks to filter out conflict and arrive at consensus.

''Hong Kong people do not understand how the Chinese system operates,'' said pro-China member David Chu.

The Chinese way is that ''all the discussions are done beforehand. The group meeting is a formality,'' he said.

The committee also faces charges of being too secretive as it forbids members to divulge the content of its debate.

While speaking out, Fung was careful not to reveal what issues were under discussion. But his criticism suggests stormy times ahead for the committee. Mr. Chu maintains that the committee's working style doesn't matter because under China's own blueprint, Hong Kong is to be ruled by its people, while the committee is to be disbanded.

Hong Kong democrats say they have reason to worry since China has said it will dismiss the incumbent legislature in midterm and has also indicated it will roll back civil liberties legislation.

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