By ALAN WONG
New York Times
HONG KONG >> Every June 4 for the past 26 years, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have gathered for a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate those who were killed in the Chinese military’s suppression of the 1989 democracy protests in Beijing. Activists from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong student leaders and politicians have shared the stage to declare their solidarity in a continuing struggle for political change in China.
Not this year. The largest student union in Hong Kong has said that it will no longer participate in the commemoration as local young people increasingly focus on first achieving greater democracy and autonomy for their city, with some even calling for independence from China. Ahead of the anniversary of the crackdown on Saturday, politicians and students here were asked about the growing fissures within the democracy movement in the semiautonomous Chinese territory and how it should move forward. Here are some of their answers.
— Lee Cheuk-yan, lawmaker and protest leader
“I could be called the 1989 generation because, at that time, all of us poured in all our passion, our ideals,” said Lee, 59, who was in Beijing during the last days of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. “We shared the aspiration for democracy in China of the Chinese students of the democracy movement.”
Lee, a legislator from the Labor Party, is the former chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, known as the Alliance, established in May 1989 in sympathy with the demonstrators in Beijing and the main organizer of the Victoria Park vigil. Since the crackdown, which the Chinese government said was necessary to put down a “counterrevolutionary rebellion,” the group has called for “a rehabilitation of the 1989 democratic movement, accountability for the massacre, an end to one-party dictatorship and a democratic China.”
“It’s not an identity issue,” he said. “It’s a matter of strategy. If we want to have our say for our future, we need to overthrow this one-party state. We need to change China, and who we can link up with to change China? The people inside China. There is a civil society, there is a dissident movement, there is a human rights defense movement, the religious movement, labor movement. If we can give them a push and support those movements, then we’ll have our future. It has every relevance to our movement in Hong Kong.”
— Wong Yeung-tat, social activist
Wong, 37, is an organizer of alternative June 4 rallies that have expanded this year to five neighborhoods, from just one in 2014. Civic Passion, the populist party he founded, is part of the so-called localist movement that has turned its back on the Chinese mainland. His party advocates greater autonomy for Hong Kong by rewriting the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that underpinned the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997 under the principle of “one country, two systems.”
“The call for the rehabilitation of the victims of June 4 is a weak demand,” he said. “The students in Beijing back then were seeking political reform, not trying to avoid being characterized as ‘rebels.’ Asking to rehabilitate the students is just acknowledging the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy.”
“It also implies that Hong Kong is subordinate to Beijing by hoping it will do something beneficial for Hong Kong,” he said. “If we continue letting the Alliance use June 4 to propagate this idea, it’d be harmful to the local democracy movement.”
“I didn’t set up a new gathering just to challenge the Alliance, but in the hope we could channel our anger into action. We’re holding five gatherings this year, in five neighborhoods. The focus is to remember June 4 and understand what the communist regime is, and to fight for our sovereignty and self-government. We want to rewrite the constitution.”
— Emily Lau, lawmaker
Lau, 63, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, in 1991 became the first directly elected female legislator in Hong Kong in elections in which candidates who were sympathetic to the Tiananmen protesters won by landslides. Many of them went on to become the backbone of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. In 2014, she participated in the street protests for universal suffrage and a greater public role in the election of the city’s leader, the chief executive, that became known as the Umbrella Movement.
“This business of June 4 is something that actually many young people — although they were not born yet, they know about it because their teachers, their parents, their relatives and friends tell them,” she said. “They think it’s a national disgrace. So it is something that needs to be addressed.”
“So the two together — the June 4 massacre and Hong Kong’s desire for universal suffrage — if Beijing would do something to resolve these things, I think many Hong Kong people would be happy to be a Chinese living in Hong Kong under ‘one country, two systems,’ and that would be good for Hong Kong and good for the rest of the country.”
“If Beijing would keep its promises and exercise self-restraint, allow Hong Kong to really enjoy a high degree of autonomy, then the number of people who ask for independence will decrease.”
— Joshua Wong, student leader
Wong, 19, was a student leader of the 2014 street protests. In 2016, he founded a new political party, Demosisto, to push for a referendum on Hong Kong’s political future. He plans to attend the Victoria Park vigil.
“The reason younger people are avoiding Victoria Park in the past few years is they felt the older democrats have failed to represent them,” he said. “Just a few years ago, the Alliance was singing songs like ‘The Chinese Dream’ and even the ‘Descendants of the Dragon.’ It was the older generation’s nationalist sentiment with China. Our generation grew up witnessing how the Chinese Communist Party has come to appropriate the Chinese identity for itself, so we’re not associating ourselves with that.”
“The most important aim is to tell people there the importance of pursuing self-determination for Hong Kong,” he said. “June 4 launched Hong Kong’s democracy movement. The Umbrella Movement launched the next wave.”