Freedom a burden Hong Kong must carry

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2009, 12:00am

Last Thursday night's candle-light vigil in Victoria Park was a reminder of just how important the role is that destiny assigned to Hong Kong. This is a city that has been part of China for 12 years and yet remains the only part where there is genuine freedom of speech and of assembly. This is due to the policy of 'one country, two systems', even though many may feel that it is not being implemented in full.

While the 'two systems' ensures Hong Kong remains different from the mainland, the 'one country' part is also being implemented, with an increasing sense of Chinese identity among people in Hong Kong.

But this sense of Chinese identity is in no way contrary to support for democracy. In fact, the 150,000 people who gathered in Victoria Park certainly hope that, one day, the rest of China will be as fortunate as Hong Kong in being able to enjoy all the rights and freedoms that are taken for granted here.

In the meantime, however, it is Hongkongers' duty to cherish those rights, as well as fight to maintain them whenever there is a threat. One such discernible threat was the Article 23, anti-subversion legislation proposed in 2003.

If it had passed into law in its original form, could the memoirs of late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang have been published here? Would Beijing have been able to claim they contained state secrets?

The government's decision to deny entry to certain politically sensitive individuals also enhances the perception that Hong Kong's political freedoms may be eroded. Those excluded this year included Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, who created the Pillar of Shame to commemorate the 1989 events, as well as former student leaders Wang Dan and Xiang Xiaoji .

Despite these cases, however, it is significant that Xiong Yan , a student leader in Tiananmen Square in 1989, was allowed to enter. Thus, for the first time, the rally organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China was able to feature a speaker who was actually a student leader 20 years ago.

Mr Xiong, now a US army chaplain, publicly renounced his communist party membership after settling in America. He clearly relished the opportunity to set foot on Chinese soil for the first time since he fled in 1992.

'Hong Kong is the pride of China and even the whole world because the Hong Kong people uphold freedom,' he told the candle-waving crowd. 'The world will treasure Hong Kong and her people.'

Because Hong Kong is so small, it sometimes seems a hopeless task to struggle against pressure from Beijing. And yet, its struggle is more than that of the 7 million people here. By fighting to maintain freedoms here, Hong Kong is also in a real sense fighting for the future rights and freedoms of the 1.3 billion people on the mainland.

Hong Kong is the only bit of China where speakers at a mass gathering can openly call on the party to admit its wrongdoings and demand that those who ordered troops to fire on unarmed civilians be held accountable - including paramount leader Deng Xiaoping , former premier Li Peng and then-president Yang Shangkun . It is crucial that this voice remains vibrant and unafraid.

Deng, in particular, has been elevated to near-god status on the mainland, so the mere fact that he was the one who ordered in the troops makes the issue off limits to all discussion. This is not the way it should be. Deng, after all, was the one who brought Mao Zedong back to Earth.

It is not just Chinese around the world who see Hong Kong as a unique part of China. It is also a symbol to the international community of what China can be, if only its people are allowed to think and act freely.

Every year, at this time, the eyes of the world are on Hong Kong. And, once again, it did not let them down.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.