My Take

Why Beijing wants June 4 vigil to go on

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 1:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 1:18am

When Hong Kong was returned to the motherland, many pundits both in Hong Kong and outside thought the authorities would quickly put an end to the annual June 4 vigil. That didn't happen.

Even today, you can read foreign media's description and explanation of the special status of Hong Kong as the only place in China that can commemorate the bloody crackdown.

After so many years, I am beginning to think authorities on both sides of the border not only tolerate but actually encourage the commemoration, now more than ever. Some may actually take comfort in the annual event.

If this sounds absurd to you, let me try this. Beijing is less worried about patriotic democrats than those young vocal nativists or localists who don't care about China and want nothing to do with it. That's because such sentiments are conducive to independence, and there is probably no political movement that provokes Beijing's paranoia more, even if it lacks public support.

June 4 is a symbol of Chinese democratic nationalism. From Beijing's point of view, those Hong Kong people who take part in it still care about China and believe in their national identity as Chinese. Their demand for vindication of the martyrs and victims of the crackdown tacitly recognises the central government as the only legitimate authority that may revise the historical judgment.

Not so the nativists or localists. For the first time, several university student unions have withdrawn from the June 4 vigil, saying they no longer share the vigil's goal of a democratic China.

There are other localist voices that claim mainland affairs "have nothing to do with" Hong Kong.

Our rulers in Beijing are no fools. They realise those in Hong Kong who wrap themselves in the national flag - the pro-establishment honchos - are not the only patriots, or even real patriots.

You need to placate the real patriots who believe in the idea of China despite their democratic tendency. So long as people continue to show up for June 4, it means there are still Chinese among Hongkongers who care about China.

The day they stop showing up on June 4, Beijing will have something really serious to worry about in Hong Kong.