HONG KONG | Hong Kongers were preparing to mark the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown on Thursday by celebrating everywhere in the city because of the ban on the traditional evening vigil in a central park, against a backdrop of strong tensions over the influence of Beijing.
It’s been 30 years since a vigil has drawn crowds to the former British colony in memory of the bloody intervention of the Chinese army on the night of June 3-4, 1989, around the famous heart square in Beijing.
The repression had left between several hundred and more than a thousand dead. It had ended seven weeks of student and worker protests denouncing corruption and demanding democracy.
The subject is taboo in China. An AFP photographer was arrested by police on Thursday morning in Beijing, who forced him to erase most of his photos while driving near Tiananmen.
In this context, Hong Kong is the only place in the country where the event is commemorated each year, which illustrates the unique freedoms enjoyed by the autonomous territory, which returned to the Chinese fold in 1997.
But for the first time in three decades, the vigil was not authorized this year by the police. She cited the risks associated with COVID-19, as gatherings of more than eight people were prohibited. Barriers have been installed around Victoria Park, a traditional place for the vigil.
In exchange, the organizers called on residents to light candles at 8 p.m. local where they are.
“I don’t think it’s because of the pandemic. This is political repression, “Wong, a 53-year-old man who refused to give his full identity, after kneeling near the Park in tribute, told AFP.
“I am afraid that this vigil will never take place again.”
These evenings usually draw crowds to Hong Kong, especially in years when concern about Beijing’s attitude is particularly high.
Last year, the 30th anniversary vigil had already taken place in a tense political context: the pro-Beijing Hong Kong executive was trying to impose authorization for extraditions to mainland China.
A week later was going to start seven months of almost daily demonstrations in the financial metropolis.
In response to this movement, Beijing announced in late May its intention to impose a national security law in Hong Kong, which plans to punish separatist, “terrorist” activities, subversion, and foreign interference in the territory.
Many Hong Kongers, and many Western capitals fear that this reform is the prelude to a wave of political repression and signals the end of theoretically guaranteed semi-autonomy until 2047.
Several conglomerates very involved in mainland China have, however, just expressed their support for this controversial text, including HSBC, Standard Chartered or Jardine Matheson
But a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce this week suggested that 83 percent of Hong Kongers were moderately or very concerned about the law, and half said they were pessimistic about the city’s future.
Another source of tension is a bill that has been voted on by Beijing and is currently under debate in the Legislative Council (LegCo, the Hong Kong Parliament), which plans to criminalize contempt for the Chinese national anthem.
Elected officials are expected to vote Thursday afternoon, but the session was adjourned after the expulsion of an opposition MP who threw a foul mixture of liquid fertilizer to the ground to mark Tiananmen’s birthday.
Deprived of vigil, the Hong Kong people should nonetheless find other ways to express their anger in Beijing.
“White candles should be distributed in around 100 to 200 points in Hong Kong,” said Chiu Yan-loy, district elected official and member of the “Alliance of Hong Kong” – traditional organizer of the vigil, to AFP. .
In mainland China, no public commemoration is possible: the media remain silent, the censors erase all mention on the internet and the police closely monitor the dissidents before the fateful date of June 4.
Vigils are however planned in Taiwan and within the Chinese diaspora in several Western countries.
The United States has praised the memory of the victims, as it does every year.
American Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo tweeted a photo of him with four figures from the Tiananmen movement.
Asked about the crackdown, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that the Chinese authorities had “already reached a clear conclusion on the political unrest that occurred in the late 1980s”.
“The great achievements of New China in the past 70 years have fully demonstrated that the path of development chosen by China is entirely correct,” said Zhao Lijian.