10/07/2005, 00.00
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The Party has betrayed the workers, says Lee Cheuk-yan, Hong Kong democratic lawmaker

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has betrayed the working class sacrificing its rights and liberty on the altar of economic development.

On the eve of the plenum of the CCP, Lee Cheuk-yan, trade union leader and member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo), reviews for AsiaNews China's current situation, one of growing demonstrations and social unrest involving industrial workers and farmers.

Involved in the pro-democracy movement crushed in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, Mr Lee was arrested at the time and deported to Hong Kong.

Since then and in spite of the fact that he has been a member of the LegCo for 16 years, he has been denied entry into mainland China. But thanks to a deal worked out by Hong Kong and mainland authorities along with other Honk Kong lawmakers he was able to visit Guangdong province on September 25.

Here is the interview he gave AsiaNews.

What was you first impression going back to China?

The trip by pro-democracy legislators from Hong Kong to mainland China filled me first of all with a sense of sadness. I saw a country that wasn't free or democratic and it's sad to think that the 16 years I have spent in exile were forced on me because of the aid we brought in 1989 to the pro-democracy and anti-corruption movement in Tiananmen Square. The goals we were pursuing and for which so many people die have not been reached. I feel really sorry.

What do you think of the talks with Communist leaders?

In Hong Kong views differ as to the value of the trip and the direct dialogue with the Chinese Communists. After all is said and done, we though it was an opportunity to take in order to directly argue the case for democracy, freedom and rights. Our disappointment was great when all we got by way of an answer was the official Party line condemning the 1989 movement and its goals, justifying the repression and bloodbath as correct.

Did you talk about free trade unions and workers' rights?

We did talk about free trade unions, but the Party representatives said they would "block any Solidarność in China". They are really scared that with free trade unions people may start calling for political reforms.

I think that industrial actions these days, which the government has dealt with violence and arrests, will only stop when workers are truly free.

What is behind this unrest?

The Party has betrayed the working class and has sacrificed the rights and interests of the workers to create a capitalist elite. Currently, the Party is only interested in making deals with the capitalist world, and to sustain economic growth and development, they are exploiting the working class. Many people are forced to leave the countryside to work in factories in the cities, but this is just stoking the fire of anger whose only outlet has been social unrest.

What do you expect to come out of the Party plenum?

The plenum, which starts on October 8, won't change much. All the politburo is interested in is economic reform and continued domestic growth. It is not interested in the political reforms that should go along with the current development, or the social inequalities that are creating a great divide in the country. They don't care about people's freedom of speech being crushed by violence and arrests. They'll probably end up talking about demonstrations and 'harmonious development', the government's slogan, but it is all empty rhetoric done for public relations. I believe that if one wants harmonious development, citizens must be given more rights and freedom.

Can there be a dialogue with the central government?

There is a real possibility for pro-democracy activists to travel to Beijing and engage the Communist leadership in a direct dialogue, but it is not clear when this could happen.

There are urgent issues that Hong Kong must discuss with Beijing such as democratic reforms and universal suffrage. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong government intends to change the Territory's Basic Law without saying when and how.

Hong Kong people want democratic reforms now, but no one wants to come up with a precise timetable and agenda for discussion.

What do you remember of what happened in Tiananmen Square?

My personal recollection of the pro-democracy struggle in China is that of the night when lights went out in Tiananmen Square and students were cornered in one part of the square.

I hope one day to see the lights of democracy and freedom turned on again in China.

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