Hong Kong Minorities Seek End to Race Bias; Government Slow to Craft Discrimination law.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: PACIFIC RIM)

Article excerpt


HONG KONG - When the Hong Kong Legislative Council convened this month, it was faced with having to contend with rising unemployment, declining property values and a growing dengue-fever scare. It will also have to deal with a proposed sedition and treason law early next year.

What is not on the agenda, however, is a proposal to outlaw racial discrimination, despite substantial support for such legislation from the public and from the business community. This, critics say, is because the government is unwilling to discuss the issue, and without government support, no bill can be introduced.

"The government keeps saying the majority doesn't think there is a need for anti-discrimination legislation," said legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan. "That is ridiculous."

A consultation paper issued quietly by the Home Affairs Bureau in August backs Mrs. Ho's contention. It showed overwhelming support by the Hong Kong business community for legislation against racial discrimination.

Christine W. Ng, a professor of business management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that the government was surprised by the results detailed in the document.

"It was totally unexpected," she said. "People expected a lower percentage of business groups would say there is no race problem in Hong Kong." The responses from foreign and local groups, however, showed the opposite.

Of 25 responses to the government's query, 16 chambers of commerce and business associations were in favor of such legislation, while six local business groups either expressed reservations or opposition. The government, in its summary of the paper, stressed the local opposition.

Tse Cheung-Hing, spokesman for Home Affairs Bureau Secretary Patrick C.P. Ho, defended the way the government treated the negative responses. "We were only drawing a distinction between the groups," he said. "We attach importance to all views expressed in the paper."

Government critics, however, say that the wording reflects a mind-set that is against any move targeting racial discrimination.

"They just don't want to legislate on this," said Ravi Gidumal, a Hong Kong businessman and member of Hong Kong Against Race Discrimination (HARD).

The South China Morning Post reported this month that Hong Kong will address racial-discrimination issues in a submission to the United Nations next year as part of China's first report on cultural and economic rights.

The Hong Kong daily reported that local government officials did not say whether racial discrimination would be outlawed. In August last year, the U.N. race committee voiced fears that Hong Kong still lacked an anti-racism law and ordered the government to resolve the problem before the next report, due Jan. 28.

Mr. Ho said that his colleagues were still studying what to do. "We need to consider how to strike a proper balance among the different views and, therefore, the duration of the study has exceeded our target," he told legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing in a written reply quoted by the newspaper.

Mr. Ho said that the government would try to meet the U. …