As someone once said: When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.
For years, Beijing has imagined hopefully that Hong Kong’s longstanding pro-democracy movement would lose its appeal among the city’s population. The Communist regime has long wanted the city’s annual commemoration of the 1989 Beijing massacre to dwindle and fade. China’s leaders and their local surrogates have longed for politically aware, especially younger, Hongkongers to accept reality and cease demanding an end to one-party rule.
Now, their wishes are coming true. But something even worse is happening instead.
The Democratic Party and other mainstream/moderate opposition groups are losing support – but to far more radical localist and pro-independence forces. Several factions of youth activists are boycotting/rejecting/ignoring the June 4 vigil on the grounds that they are Hongkongers, not Chinese, so the events of 1989 are the history of another country and of no special significance to them. These people similarly take no interest in whether the Communist Party keeps its grip on the Mainland; so long as Hong Kong is separate and insulated from China, who cares what happens up there?
Chief Executive CY Leung now finds himself begging the younger generation to identify as Chinese and – by implication and hints – even care about and remember the Tiananmen dead. One interpretation is that he is trying to bolster his dismal public opinion ratings in the hope of being appointed for a second term next year. But looking at the bigger picture, Beijing and its puppet government here must be thinking they were better off with the traditional opposition as ‘the devil you know’.
Localism is putting the once-demonized mainstream pro-democrats into perspective. The Martin Lees and Emily Laus and other (including more radical) opposition oldies always claimed to be ‘patriotic’ Chinese. They demanded – as compatriots of the victims – that Beijing account for the 1989 killings. They called for democracy for Hong Kong as part of wider reform of the whole motherland. As nationalists and anti-colonialists, they had always supported Hong Kong’s return to China, and many wanted Taiwan back in the fold and stood beside pro-CCP figures to demand that Japan hand over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
Now this new movement comes along, uttering absurdities like ‘independence’ and cheekily waving colonial banners. Its members say they don’t accept being Chinese anyway, don’t deign to oppose or even give a damn about the Communist Party, and claim not to comprehend what China has to do with Hong Kong in the first place. At least Emily Lau gave the CCP face by shrieking for its overthrow; these kids just shrug. In Taiwan, young radicals are so deeply into this line of thinking that you can’t even explain it away as posturing. This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out, and, as Zhang Dejiang’s clunky
platitudes here showed, Beijing’s officials are clueless about how to respond.
These youngsters and their sheer obliviousness to the CCP-vs-Pan-Dems rule-book are probably the most heartening, and quite possibly funniest, thing that has happened to Hong Kong since 1997. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of corrupt Leninist tyrants.
(Wits have dug up CY’s June 5 1989 statement condemning the massacre. There’s much more out there, should any investigative reporters want to dig through enough archives: many, indeed most, pro-Beijing politicians and – perhaps more amusingly – tycoons publicly declared their revulsion and shock at the time, and would quite possibly find it embarrassing to be reminded about it all these years later.)