June 5, 2014

CHINA: Tens of Thousands Attend Hong Kong Vigil to Mark Tiananmen Crackdown

The Wall Street Journal
written by Isabella Steger and Chester Yung in Hong Kong and Jenny W. Hsu in Taipei
Wednesday June 4, 2014

Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong rallied on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on student protesters in Beijing, but political fractures between the city and mainland China were showing.

The annual candlelight vigil in the city is the biggest event globally marking the crackdown, and organizers were hoping the 25th anniversary would push the crowd above the 100,000 level it has hit in years past. Organizers put initial crowd estimates at 180,000 people, while police estimated that there were 99,500 participants. In Hong Kong there is almost always a wide disparity between police and organizer estimates at rallies.

From above the vigil, the park was a sea of candlelight, with people spilling out to the fringes. Call and responses echoed off nearby buildings. Videos were shown of Chinese activists thanking Hong Kong for holding the vigil.

"The Chinese communist regime cannot control everything," said Teng Biao, a prominent human-rights lawyer in China, who joined the vigil for the first time, drawing loud applause as he took the stage in Victoria Park. "I believe the truth of June 4 crackdown will be known in China one day. There are many people in the mainland who are working hard for this day."

Mr. Teng, a visiting scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he saluted visitors from the mainland who attended the Hong Kong rally Wednesday night.

The Chinese government forbids mentions of the anniversary and in recent days has tightened security in Beijing, arrested activists and suspended some accounts on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo. Hong Kong is part of China but has its own legal system and retains some political autonomy, so the restrictions related to the anniversary on the mainland don't apply to the city.

But Hong Kong is increasingly divided over mainland China's political and economic influence in the former British colony.

Outside the main rally in Victoria Park on Wednesday, a new and controversial group set up a counterprotest. The pro-Beijing Voice of Loving Hong Kong said it would show a video that is critical of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Movements of China, which organizes the Tiananmen rally, for not knowing the "full truth" of the event.

"The student leaders could have exaggerated the number of deaths, "said Patrick Ko, the group's chairman. "Beijing had to take inevitably extreme actions to restore social order and maintain social security."

An annual poll conducted by Hong Kong University released Tuesday found that fewer Hong Kongers support the 1989 protests, with 56% of those surveyed critical of the Chinese government's role in the crackdown, down from 63% last year and the lowest since 2008, when it was 49%. Still, 77% of Hong Kong residents under 30 supported the actions of the Tiananmen Square protesters, one percentage point below last year.

Another division was emerging between the rally's longtime organizers and young activists emboldened by a successful protest against a Beijing-imposed school curriculum.

Organizers of the vigil say that youth participation has swelled recently even though many of those attending were born after 1989. Students have become more politically active, and several were the leaders of large-scale protests in 2012 that led to the government shelving plans to implement patriotic classes in school curricula.

"The new generation in Hong Kong is turning more vocal, confrontational and diverse in expressing their views on June 4," said Dixon Sing, associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

An alternative vigil was held at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Kowloon, led by outspoken pro-democracy activist Wong Yuk-man, who quit the more radical People Power political party last year.

"We are organizing an event from a more local Hong Kong perspective," said Mr. Wong, who is critical of the Alliance for not fighting harder for democracy in Hong Kong. "Our rally is trying to give a new option to Hong Kong people who are tired of the Alliance and the vigil. We hope it marks a beginning of a new localization and democratic movement in Hong Kong."

Organizers said between 6,000 and 7,000 people joined the alternative vigil.

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