Friday, June 03, 2011

Hong Kong Vs. China: A Restless Truce

June 4th is the twenty-second anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. A Candlelight Vigil is held every year at Hong Kong's Victoria Park to commemorate it, the only place in all of China free to hold such an event.

The Forbidden City, Beijing
The vigil has always irked Beijing and they've tried for years to undermine any sign of "subversion" in Hong Kong. Authorities have deployed an old party trick: accuse someone of straying from the official line and shady figures emerge from the shadows to shuttle the poor sod away. It's a favorite tactic used by regimes currently darkening corners of the globe such as Burma (Myanmar), Uzbekistan and North Korea. What they share, apart from gross human rights violations, is a thriving relationship with China.

The Great Wall
In the "Middle Kingdom" the politics of vilification enjoys a long tradition. Anyone or anything that's perceived to threaten the government is quickly branded as counter-revolutionary. It happened with deadly precision during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 when even esteemed cadres were not immune. Former paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, vanished twice, once in the late 60s and then again in 1976 after the death of Premier Zhou Enlai sparked the protests known as the Tiananmen Incident.

It happened again during the prelude to the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre when the student protests were growing. The Communist Party newspaper, People's Daily, published an editorial accusing a "small number of people with ulterior purposes" of stirring up student unrest, of being counter-revolutionaries and creating turmoil. This effectively sealed the fate of the organizers and as a result, hardened their resolve to demand concessions from the government. The editorial is generally regarded as a major cause of the stalemate that arose between the students and the government, eventually causing the massacre and the subsequent purging of Zhao Ziyang, the reformist General Secretary of the Communist Party.

Zhao Ziyang with present-day Premier of China, Wen Jiabao, Tiananmen Square, May 19, 1989
As with the events of Tiananmen, Beijing is currently displaying increasing hostility by using trumped-up accusations to silence dissent. The list is long and includes Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Lui Xiaobo and internationally acclaimed artist, Ai Weiwei.

"Marble Arm" by Ai Weiwei (courtesy of Galerie Urs Meile)
This form of government terrorism threatens regional stability. As the lessons of World War II prove, a country that deprives its own citizens of human rights will disregard the rights of others. While Hong Kong enjoys more freedoms than the mainland as a result of its status as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) and "one country two systems" policy, Beijing has succeeded in tightening the noose in ever subtle and nefarious ways.

"Running Dog" Martin Lee with Nancy Pelosi
A few years ago, Beijing engaged in a so-called "patriotism campaign" to discredit the democratic movement. Martin Lee, the founding Chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, came under fire from Xinhua, the Beijing government's mouthpiece, which demonized Lee as a "traitor." The China Daily, the Communist Party's English newspaper, also chimed in to attack Lee as a "running dog of colonialists." Lee's family was also targeted. Government officials in Beijing lashed out at his late father, noted Kuomintang (KMT) General Li Yin-wo, also denouncing him as a traitor. Lee's father resisted the 1941-1945 Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, as well as the communists. He's widely regarded as a hero, an embodiment of virtue and a prime example of what differentiates Hong Kong from mainland China. For how long this difference can survive is up to the vigilance of patriots like Lee.

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