Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Cages best left for the birds

Hong Kong's second district council elections since the 1997 handover to China were held on Sunday. The political aftermath of the 500,000-strong march in July protesting the government's Article 23 legislation, which attempted to constrain people's freedom of speech, resulted in the utter defeat of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, while the Democratic Party, representing the territory's democratic forces, won a major victory.

People often like to describe Hong Kong's political situation as a "birdcage," because popular elections have not been completely implemented following the territory's handover. The chief executive is still appointed by Beijing, and many seats in the Legislative Council and the District Council still belong to appointees. As a result, democratic forces remain a minority in the two councils despite Sunday's elections. Nevertheless, the results send a message to Beijing that people in Hong Kong want full-fledged elections and that they will no longer keep silent about birdcage politics.

Although Beijing has no direct control over Taiwan, the fear of Beijing is evident here. Due to this fear, some have suggested that restrictions should be written into a referendum law so that the nation's title, flag and anthem cannot be changed through a referendum. These people also suggest that the scope for constitutional change should be restricted so that the general outline of the Constitution may not be changed. Such suggestions are only attempts to trap the public in birdcage politics. If we acknowledge that the people are the true masters of the nation, then the important questions about the nation's future and public welfare should of course be decided by the people in a vote. What would be the rationale behind setting up such restrictions?

At the same time, we must point out that the Taipei City Government's ban on the Special Report VCDs is also the result of absurd political attitudes. Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), despite having a law degree from Harvard University, doesn't understand the basic spirit of American law, which makes the protection of its citizens' right to free speech its foremost task. Instead, Ma has cracked down on a legally registered publication. It seems Ma and his government are devoid of any capacity to understand their suppression of the freedom of expression. From their reactionary political attitudes, they appear to be stuck in martial-law era birdcage politics, even though it has been 15 years since the people of Taiwan crushed the cage that allowed the seizure of non-governmental publications.

The Special Report series is a legally registered publication. If its contents libel certain people, the victims may seek compensation through legal means. There is no need for Taipei's mayor to order the seizure of the VCDs. It is unacceptable that Ma has not yet apologized for his crackdown.

If the VCDs are indeed so "vulgar" -- as one politician described it -- that they corrupt society and require an immediate crackdown, how come so many university professors and well-known figures supported their publication at a press conference at National Taiwan University yesterday?

In a fable, a bird is tied to a tree at birth, so it can only fly in circles around the tree. One day it is freed. However, it cannot quit the habit of flying in circles around the tree. Today, people in Hong Kong are trying hard to break free from the bondage of birdcage politics. In Taiwan, there are people who want to fly back into that cage. Their mind-set is truly sad.

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