Tiananmen Square crackdown

Preserving freedom

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 June, 1999, 12:00am

Opinion polls may show that interest has faded. After so much time has passed, it is inevitable that some people prefer to focus on more recent issues.

But the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park last night showed once again that there are many in this community who will never forget the massacre in Tiananmen Square 10 years ago. Over the past decade, this annual memorial event has become an integral part of local life.

In many respects, it shows Hong Kong at its best. Freedom of expression conducted in a dignified manner, causing none of the tensions nor threats of violence which so commonly mar such events in other parts of the world.

Even those who do not personally attend such vigils would wish to see them continue. Perhaps even many of the minority who agree with Beijing's account of the events of June 1989 would agree that these are an important symbol of Hong Kong's freedoms.

It is a mark of the success of the one country, two systems concept that the event is no longer surrounded by such uncertainty. Two years ago many feared the 1997 memorial would be the last. Now no one doubts that such vigils will continue, at least until the official verdict on the massacre is reversed.

Whatever his personal feelings, Tung Chee-hwa has stopped talking about the 'baggage' of Tiananmen. However traces of this attitude are still evident in the regrettable decision to deny visas to 11 mainland dissidents.

That cast a shadow over last night's event. But it was not enough to mar seriously the significance of this event being held for a second successive year on Chinese soil.

Even if some people who should have been allowed to attend were unable to do so, the importance of this vigil lies in the fact it could be held at all. In doing so, Hong Kong people were able to exercise a right that is denied everywhere else in China.

Beijing now shows every sign of continuing to tolerate such activities. That makes this event an encouraging sign that Hong Kong's freedoms stand a good chance of surviving so long as they are properly valued and supported here, as they were last night.