Time to heal wounds over June 4 crackdown
The June 4 vigil last night had a special poignancy as the thousands who gathered at Victoria Park remembered victims of the Sichuan earthquake as well as those who died in the Tiananmen crackdown 19 years ago.
The annual commemoration is also a time for reflection. Despite the profound changes that have taken place on both sides of the border since 1989, the legacy of those traumatic events continues to have an impact on both Hong Kong and the mainland. As we begin to look ahead to the 20th anniversary of the crackdown, there is still a need to heal wounds and to ensure that the Tiananmen legacy does not continue to create divisions in society.
Notwithstanding the long intervening years, June 4 still haunts us, and often in unexpected ways. Here in Hong Kong, for example, the current row over the foreign nationalities of new political appointees has its roots in the wave of emigration triggered by fears and uncertainties following Beijing's crackdown on the student-led democracy movement. Many people acquired foreign passports but returned because of the success of the 'one country, two systems' model after 1997. Now that times have changed, holding a foreign passport should not be regarded as a stigma or a sign of disloyalty. This is an issue that stems from the past; we should not let it continue to divide us.
Understandably, the Tiananmen crackdown and its aftermath remains a heavy historical burden for Chinese people everywhere. It will remain so for a long time to come. The central government has said it has no plan to reverse the verdict on the 1989 protests. This is not surprising given the nature and history of the one-party system, and the situation is unlikely to change in the near future. However, it is undeniable that Beijing has won back political legitimacy - seriously eroded after the crackdown - for the economic reforms it has accomplished and the resulting improvement in the livelihoods of ordinary people. Images of People's Liberation Army soldiers fighting through mud and debris to rescue victims from the Sichuan earthquake were poles apart from those familiar pictures of the tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square to clear protesters in 1989.
China has made great strides since then. But that is even more reason why the central government should be looking to ease the impact of Tiananmen on those who have suffered as a result of the crackdown, including those who lost their loved ones during the turmoil. Beijing should also consider releasing those who are still in jail for their part in the protests. By treating these people humanely, the central government can show it is ready to move on and, in the process, improve its moral standing in the eyes of the world.
The events of June 4, 1989, will always be remembered. But as we look to the future, it is to be hoped that they will not continue to be a source of pain and division.