Beijing needs sea change over June 4

Editorial | Mary Ma 5 Jun 2019

I had mixed emotions watching the large number of people - estimated at more than 100,000 - turning out for the world's biggest rally commemorating all the students and workers viciously killed on Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

It's a blessing because people in Hong Kong are still free to do so. It's sad because nobody in the mainland has been able to join in even so many years later.

Last night's turnout was massive - partly because it was the 30th anniversary of the crackdown by the People's Liberation Army, and partly due to the SAR government's unpopular move to amend the extradition law so that fugitives wanted by the mainland can be handed over.

As over the past 29 years, the candlelight vigil at Victoria Park was conducted peacefully and orderly with each participant attending with a heavy heart. This was in sharp contrast to a protest by a bunch of self-proclaimed Chinese patriots denouncing the memorial event.

The latter's unwavering subscription to so-called official accounts that the military crackdown resulted only in a small number of deaths showed how easy some could lose their ability to discern between right and wrong.

Last night's rally opened with a one-minute silence, followed by a video speech by a member of the Tiananmen Mothers.

An eye-witness to the June 4 infamy then took the stage to recount what happened during that long, fateful night.

All this was strictly censored in the mainland, where any mention of June 4 or 6.4 was banned on social media, deleted as soon as it was posted. Anyone loosely linked to June 4 was reportedly either led away, or held at home as part of a national clampdown.

It's obvious that calls to revisit the official stance on victims of the violent suppression will fall on deaf ears for the 30th year.

If Defense Minister Wei Fenghe's spirited defense of the 1989 violent suppression was indicative, it would strongly suggest that the communist party isn't prepared to clear the victims of political crimes in the foreseeable future.

It would be most regrettable if that's going to be the case, since only those who are truly brave would face their own wrongdoing directly.

World history is filled with tragic incidents, some of which vindicated victims and others do not. On February 28, 1947, the Kuomintang government in Taiwan violently suppressed a protest, killing between 5,000 and 28,000 people to trigger a period in history notoriously called the White Terror.

It took nearly half a century for the Taipei government to acknowledge the mistake and formally apologize to the people. Meanwhile, currently situated several blocks from the presidential palace is a museum and park commemorating the February 28 massacre.

In Canada in 2016, Ottawa launched an official inquiry into the deaths of some 1,000 indigenous women and girls between 1980 and 2012. The government faced the scandal directly, with an inquiry concluding the deaths amounted to a national genocide.

The events were scandalous for the ruling regimes, and it required courage to face up to the suffering imposed on the people.

It's disappointing to see how Beijing has avoided the Tiananmen Square disgrace for the past 30 years. Is it prepared to bury its head in the sand forever?

The sooner the central government is prepared to remedy the matter, the better.

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