The 30th anniversary of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square, perhaps the most worrying of 2019 ephemerides, went by without so much as an unpredictable event, without too much of an ado other than an understandable media surge fueled by the round date. The two-hundred strong crowd had a mourning sit-in in the Macau Senado/Saint Dominic square. Across the Pearl River Delta tens of thousands again lit up Victoria Park.
Nevertheless, 2019 looks likely to establish a turning point in the assessment and political evaluation of the original student movement; a movement eager for freedom and democracy that went on to occupy that Square in the heart of Beijing. A brief Spring that ended in tragedy when the army tanks were sent in.
Wei Fenghe, the Chinese Defense Minister, finally came somewhat clean about the 4th of June, thus far treated as a taboo. Speaking in a Forum (Dialogue) in Singapore, General Wei displayed a circular argument to justify the decision, deemed “correct” and justifiable because of its outcome: economic development and stability. Ends that justify means, but with a twist.
This assessment strips the issue of its political and democratic watermark. Back then students were called counter-revolutionary, not democracy pushers since that word was present in Deng Xiaoping ideas. Now, since Wei Fenghe’s evaluation, they are (were) nothing but troublemakers who could bring disorder, chaos (luan) to China. And what causes troublemakers? The answer is compatible with the circular argument: “social turbulence”.
Thus we upturn the 30-year-old 4th June on its axis. The mourning and iconography will go on forever, be it through vigils, the brave mothers of Tiananmen or the courage which defies description shown by the Tank Man. But, since we now have the kind of official assessment as summarized above, no apology will come…soon.
At this point, indeed, one should turn Leninist to ask what to do? The assessment points to social, institutional, and – as the concept looks to be in line with General Wei’s reasoning, we dare add – scientific means.
As we are penning this column, the Hong Kong Legislative Council is to vote on the amended Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters Ordinances. Supposedly, amendments were made to soften the threat to autonomy and to its status as an international trade hub: raising the minimum required sentence to 7 years and slashing some crimes; extradition requests are only to be processed if they are made by the central authority, such as China´s Supreme People´s Procuratorate, rather than handing it to provincial or local authorities.
Besides, in what could almost be seen as an overall policy suggestion to the mainland jurisdiction, the HKSAR could also explore having people serve their sentences in Hong Kong, negotiate arrangements for post-surrender visits by consuls or other officials, and governments requesting extraditions would have to provide assurances that suspects are granted protections including the presumption of innocence, the right to an open trial, legal representation, the right to cross-examine witnesses…and the right to appeal.
Why is it that the business and legal sectors, as well as human-rights activists, are deeply suspicious? Even after the reading of the proposed amendments, Hong Kong residents suspected of crimes could easily be sent to the mainland to face vague charges, and worse, retrospective charges for crimes yet to evolve. There you go statute of limitations.
As we said…the zeitgeist is one of the turning points.