05/28/2009, 00.00
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Hong Kong trade unionist: China risks another Tiananmen

by Lee Cheuk Yan
Without democracy China is drowning in corruption and injustice. Workers, farmers and migrants revolts are a sign that Beijing is on the verge of a fresh crisis in its relationship with the population. Hong Kong is the catalyst of Chinese democracy. A witness of the Tiananmen movement, banned for over 20 years from returning to China, speaks out.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Lee Cheuk Yan, 52, is a Legco parliamentarian in Hong Kong. Head of the territory’s Federation of Unions, he is also a member of the pan-democratic group.  During the Tiananmen demonstrations he – like the majority in Hong Kong – helped the young people of Beijing and shortly before the June 4th massacre, he succeeded in bringing them money he had collected for tents, faxes and food. Arrested for a number of days he was later extradited to Hong Kong.  Since then Lee is one of the few people banned from setting foot on the mainland, because of his support of the Tiananmen movement, but above all because of his commitment to workers rights in Hong Kong and China.

Many people ask me why I still remember June 4th.  After all China has changed.  Indeed the extraordinary progress of the China of today can be clearly seen.  But it is only on an economic level.  In that field alone, can we say that there has been great success, with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) that for a long time was around 10% a year.  But the way in which the Communist Party treats its people hasn’t changed at all.  The only thing that has changed compared to 20 years ago is the dimensions of its corruption.  And people continue to be angered by this corruption, just as 20 years ago.

So regarding freedom nothing has changed.  There is still no freedom of expression, the government continues to quash all difference of opinion, there is no freedom of speech or association.  We only need to look at how all of the signatories of Charter 08 have been arrested and silenced.  As soon as they feel an opinion may threaten the Communist Party, they immediately suppress it.  That is why they arrested Liu Xiaobo; during the Olympics they arrested Hu Jia, their only crime being their support of people’s rights.

This is why it is rally a bitter pill to swallow when I hear that we should forget June 4th because China has changed.

This year is not only the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. It is also the 90th anniversary of the May 4th movement.  They too were students, who asked that China follow reforms based on “science” and “democracy”.  Maybe after 90 years China has acquired science but where is the democracy? There is a cry for democracy that spans decades of Chinese history and still today we have neither democracy, nor human rights, nor freedom.

China has been waiting for over a century now for democracy and still we are still waiting.  This is why it is even more urgent to remind the Beijing government that democracy is one the promises they haven’t kept and that without it we risk another sad episode for the people of China.

Beijing insists that democracy only suits the west.  In reality it is said that without democracy and freedom of speech there is only corruption.  Take for example the Sichuan earthquake.  As well as the Mothers of Tiananmen – who honour their children killed by armoured tanks – now there are also the Mothers of Sichuan, whose children died in the earthquake.  In May 2008, they had asked for an inquiry into the construction of the schools which collapsed on top of their children.  One year later, on the very anniversary of the disaster, President Hu Jintao didn’t dare recall the problem of the “tofu buildings”.  And yet a year ago the government had promised an inquiry!

Another example is Wen Jiabao’s efforts to strengthen the economy, by supporting the farmers, helping them by electric equipment and products [at the same time boosting internal consumption].  But the money never finds its way to the farmers: it remains stuck in the pockets of corrupt government representatives.

When Beijing says: “forget democracy and human rights, what’s important is feeding the people”, it is lying.  What in fact happens is that without human rights, democracy and freedom of press, you don’t feed the people, only the corrupt.  The only guarantee for the well being of the people is democracy.

Moreover without human rights and democracy you will never overcome the abyss between rich and poor.  If there is no participation, no trade unions, civil society, you risk collapse.

Hong Kong played an important role in supporting the young people of the Tiananmen movement.

Those days of 20 years ago are one of the most painful periods of my life: to see young people killed, the wounded carried on bicycles, or in the arms of others, the people in tears…. I went to Beijing then to bring money that we had collected in support of their movement.  I arrived there at the end of May.  I witnessed the first clashes between the army with their tanks and the people.  I had travelled there together with some students from Hong Kong, but we lost trace of each other.  I searched the hospitals for them and in the end, by sheer luck; I found them wounded but alive.

However when we went to take the plane back to Hong Kong, the security dragged me from the plane before take-off.  I was detained for three whole days and I had no idea what would become of me.  But after three days – I think thanks to the pressure of some people in Hong Kong – they freed me to return.  I later learned that some workers in Hong Kong had threatened to bulldoze the Xinhua offices in Hong Kong, if they didn’t release me, creating an international scandal.

I was lucky, there are Chinese who remained in prison for years.

For us in Hong Kong, the Tiananmen movement was a sign of hope that the dictatorship would end.  That is why we supported it.  But the massacre quickly put an end to our hopes.

On my return, after June 4th Hong Kong was shrouded in an atmosphere of terror and desperation.  People had no more faith in the future, they sought to emigrate, leave the territory.  I remember that my wife Elizabeth was pregnant at the time.  People would ask her where she found the courage to have a child, with a husband who was in trouble with China.

And yet still today after 20 years we continue our battle so our friends in China may soon enjoy freedom and democracy.  And our battle in Hong Kong is the same: we want full democracy in the territory, universal suffrage, but twice over the Politburo has stopped all progress, both for 2008 and 2012.

If China does not change its judgement of June 4th, how can we then expect Beijing to allow full democracy in Hong Kong?  It is the same battle, the same movement.

This is why it is important that we in Hong Kong continue to support democracy in China.  Ours is an important responsibility just as important as that of the Chinese.  Here in Hong Kong, we at least have the opportunity to commemorate the dead of Tiananmen on June 4th [as is the case with the annual Victoria Parka vigil of June 4th -ed], but in Beijing none of our compatriots have the possibility to commemorate the dead: it is forbidden them.

Our annual appointment also gives people from China the chance to come to Hong Kong to remember Tiananmen.  In 2005 when we commemorated the death of Zhao Ziyang, many of those who intervened had come from the Peoples Republic, where they were forbidden to remember Zhao.

For the Chinese of the Peoples’ Republic, coming to Hong Kong is not merely a question of tourism; it is also a tour for democracy.  Hong Kong has the important role of being a catalyst for freedom in China.

Hong TV also plays a part in this: the people of Guangdong often watch Hong Kong programs.  It often happens that when there are democracy rallies in Hong Kong, the programs are suppressed in China.  Then people understand: Ah, they are demonstrating in Hong Kong!

Hong Kong, tank to its TV, internet, and media has a profound impact on China.

Remembering Tiananmen 20 years on means putting a choice to the Chinese government.

The nation is by now an economic power; even if there is an economic crisis, a lot of money is still circulating; there are those who say that it is no longer a question of the G20 but the G2 (China and the US) for world governance…..But why are they so weak in their relationship with their people, to the point of not being able to stand for difference of opinion and to resort to suppression?

Leaders are always concerned that something may happen to them. And I think that they are worried by the widespread corruption.  A phenomenon of such dimensions, which has been ongoing for years, feeds resentment and revolts and maybe even another Tiananmen.

Obviously we do not want another Tiananmen.  We want the government to respond in a positive way to the revolts, by meeting the people and enacting political reform.  In China the desire for change is strong; the government has to decide what to do to respond to civil society.  Maybe they will not immediately enact full democracy, but they should at least take the first steps towards this goal.  By doing so it will avoid another massacre.


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See also
Kites flown in Hong Kong to remember the Tiananmen Square massacre
21/05/2018 14:18
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Estimated 110,000 people attend Tiananmen vigil in Victoria Park
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The Party has betrayed the workers, says Lee Cheuk-yan, Hong Kong democratic lawmaker
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