Hong Kong chief executives and June 4 protests
Since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, chief executives have usually avoided discussing the sensitive issue of the anniversary of the June 4 crackdown in Beijing in 1989. Occasionally, they have left the city on the day of the anniversary. This year, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying went to Shanghai – something remarked on by unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.
Lee asked Leung early on Tuesday if his Shanghai visit was to “escape the June 4 issue”.
Leung replied that he planned to address the opening of the Urban Land Institute’s Asia-Pacific summit. The chief executive said he had promised to attend the summit as early as last year. Leung also plans to meet Shanghai’s Communist Party secretary Han Zheng and return home on Wednesday.
Before attending an Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning, Leung was again questioned about the Tiananmen Square crackdown. A reporter asked whether telling the central government that Hong Kong people want the Beijing students who participated in the 1989 demonstrations to be acknowledged.
Leung again replied that he was going to Shanghai to attend two events. He did not discuss the June 4 anniversary, but instead said his government’s housing policy was progressing well.
Hong Kong’s two previous chief executives mostly stayed in Hong Kong during previous anniversaries of the June 4 crackdown – although they usually avoided commenting directly on the subject.
Leung Chun-ying’s predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, left Hong Kong on one June 4 anniversary during his seven-year tenure. In 2006, he stayed in Yunnan to attend a forum on Hong Kong-mainland co-operation.
In 2009, Tsang claimed to speak for Hong Kong people in expressing hopes for an “objective assessment” of the crackdown in light of China’s economic development.
“I understand Hong Kong people’s feelings about June 4, but the incident happened many years ago. The country’s development in many areas has since achieved tremendous results and brought economic prosperity to Hong Kong,” he told a Legislative Council question and answer session weeks before the 20th anniversary of the crackdown in 2009.
“I believe Hong Kong people will make an objective assessment of the nation’s [China’s] development,” he said at the time.
Tsang was accused of burying his conscience by pan-democrats, who staged a walk-out. Tsang eventually apologised for the remarks.
Tung Chee-hwa aroused anger with his remarks on the subject, weeks before he took office as Hong Kong’s first chief executive in 1997. He called for Hong Kong people to focus less on the June 4 crackdown and concentrate on reunification with China.
“Everything should be done for the long-term interests of Hong Kong and China,” he had said. “As a member of the Chinese nation, it’s time now for everyone to put aside the baggage of June 4.”
Tung did not repeat the comments subsequently. But according to veteran pro-democracy politician Szeto Wah, late chairman of the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, Tung repeatedly lobbied his group to stop commemorating the June 4 crackdown.