Hong Kong and China =================== TUNG'S TIANANMEN HEADACHE ------------------------- The Beijing massacre of 1989 still haunts China. We report on its significance to Hong Kong, and on hints of are writing of history in China Dateline: HONG KONG EACH year at this time, Hong Kong commemorates the Beijing massacre of June 4th 1989. It does so in a very Hong Kong way. Parents bring their children to the candlelit vigil in Victoria Park, as if for a Lantern Festival picnic; professionals dash straight from office, AgnAes B bags swinging; and the local drug-store chain, Watson's, does a roaring trade in paper candleholders. Wax still drips to the ground. But, as Martin Lee, Hong Kong's best-known politician, points out, it is diligently scraped off again before families head for bed. This year the crowd was estimated at 55,000-twice as big as in 1996.
It is unclear how seriously Hong Kong's future masters in Beijing now take the territory's annual act of remembrance.
The ritual protest by Xinhua, China's de facto embassy, accusing the British of masterminding the demonstrations, was delivered almost lackadaisically this time. True, a June 1st march to Xinhua calling for an official ``reassessment'' of Tiananmen provoked the usual video cameras peeking out behind Xinhua's grimy blinds. But it also brought to the windows some light-hearted Xinhua officials, apparently snapping for the family album. As for the official press in China, it noted this week merely that with ``the return to the motherland, Hong Kong people have begun to express their joy and happy feelings in a wide variety of celebration activities''.
What is clear is that any kind of public expression over Tiananmen renders Tung Chee-hwa, who will be Hong Kong's chief executive from July 1st, deeply uncomfortable. It was time, said Mr Tung this week, to put aside the ``baggage'' of June 4th. For some reason, Mr Tung thought fit to dispel any suspicion that he himself had ever ``taken part in any June 4th-related activities''. The future chief executive has yet to give any indication of whether he will allow such activities next year. Some of his closest advisers dearly hope he will not.
If Mr Tung chooses to clamp down after July 1st-and the laws have yet to be written-an eagerness to please China's leadership will doubtless be an important motive. But Mr Tung and the powerful businessmen he is close to also have homegrown reasons for cracking down. The Tiananmen killings brought the moment when Hong Kongers shed their apolitical reputation, as 1m people took to the streets to demonstrate against repression in Beijing. Many of Hong Kong's tycoons, however, much preferred the old days, when the population was reliably passive. After the free-thinking encouraged by Chris Patten, the outgoing British governor, Mr Tung wants to return to a more paternalist style. In China-backed schools in Hong Kong, children are already writing posters: ``Learn from Grandfather Tung''.
To the group around Mr Tung, Tiananmen marked the start of a slippery road: without extreme diligence in stamping on democratic shoots, some argue, populist pressure will lead to the end of laisser-faire Hong Kong, and the rise of a growth-sapping welfare state. One jumpy billionaire, Ronnie Chan, a property developer who has Mr Tung's ear, credits the retreating imperialists with great cunning. He insists that Britain has maliciously ``booby-trapped'' Hong Kong with welfarist bombs, such as introducing the highly popular idea of a pension scheme.
Libby Wong, a former high official in the civil service and now a member of the soon-to-be scrapped legislature, is impatient with this sort of thing. She also disagrees with Mr Tung's impatience with the Tiananmen commemoration: ``It's when people are forced to bottle things up that they get angry,'' declares Ms Wong.
Anson Chan, Mr Patten's hugely popular chief secretary, who will become Mr Tung's number two on July 1st, this week also appeared to issue a warning to her future boss. She had, she told Newsweek, less fear of what China might do to Hong Kong than what damage homegrown initiatives might wreak, referring perhaps to the more interventionist policy in favour of big business favoured by Mr Tung and his friends. She hoped, she said, speaking of civil liberties, never to have to defend anything against her conscience, implying that she would sooner resign. And she saw no reason to disallow demonstrators from shouting anti-Communist slogans.
Few Hong Kongers shout such slogans; they are not very militant. Still, they share the sentiment: an opinion poll published this week by Hong Kong University reported that three-quarters of those asked thought that Hong Kong should press for more democracy in China. And, while Mr Tung trots out the notion that only a ``very, very small lot of people'' take to the streets, the crowds at the candle-lit vigil on June 4th-many queuing for Martin Lee's autograph-suggested otherwise.
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