There is no comparison between Beijing in 1989 and today’s Hong Kong

Li Peng and China’s student leaders were fighting for the soul of the country; the stakes were incommensurably higher than anything we are now bickering over in Hong Kong.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 February, 2016, 1:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:43am

David Tang, the agony uncle of the Financial Times, has turned his acerbic wit on our government.

Taking a break from advising on the mores and manners of the world’s top 1 per cent, the founder of Shanghai Tang and the China Club proves he is every bit as entertaining and dangerous as a political commentator.

In a speech on Hong Kong’s future at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, he said Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was worse than Li Peng (李鵬), widely regarded as the main culprit of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Li, at least, met the student leaders, Tang said, while Leung completely ignored the Occupy leaders.

He also implied that Leung was weak and unrepresentative of Hongkongers: “... a puppet on a string dancing obsequiously to the tunes and echoes of Zhongnanhai”.

Well, fair enough. Though if Leung came off worse in a comparison with Li, then we must say our protest leaders do not remotely measure up to the student leaders of June 4.

Those students in Beijing in the early summer of 1989 weren’t just idealists, they were brave people willing to risk their lives for the sake of their country’s future.

They were protesting about real problems confronting China – widespread corruption and nepotism by elite party bureaucrats, the role of an increasingly capitalistic state in the economy, Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) reforms threatening to go off the rails.

Both party leaders like Li and the student leaders were fighting for the soul of the country; the stakes were incommensurably higher than anything we are now bickering over in Hong Kong.

Protesting in the perfect safety offered by Hong Kong’s free institutions, our students and protesters risk nothing but demand everything.

They thought they were replaying June 4 during the Occupy period when they were doing nothing more than blocking traffic. Ours is not a life-and-death struggle, just a very noisy one.

Now, given their lenient treatment by the police and the courts, many have now graduated to rioting and demanding independence for Hong Kong.

Some pan-democratic forces have turned to xenophobic localism. As they say, first time a tragedy, second time a farce.