Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Tiananmen Incident and the Pro-Democracy Movement in Hong Kong

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Tiananmen Incident and the Pro-Democracy Movement in Hong Kong

Article excerpt

At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama concluded that the evolution of human societies through different forms of government had culminated in modern liberal democracy.10 China seems to have convinced the world that it will be an exception, at least in the foreseeable future. While the Chinese leadership refuses to allow any erosion of the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s monopoly of political power, it has been very skilful in meeting the emerging challenges in the era of economic reforms and opening to the outside world.

Hu Jintao and the other Chinese leaders today are well aware of the sharpening social contradictions; that is why they are now trying to build a "harmonious society" with more assistance to underprivileged groups, mainly through the establishment of a social security net. Efforts are made to maintain a better balance while avoiding undue emphasis on economic growth alone, including higher priority accorded to environmental protection, more efficient utilisation of natural resources, encouraging internal consumption, and greater dependence placed on the domestic market. The Chinese leadership also attempts to maintain a friendly international environment into the future by establishing various kinds of strategic partnerships with major world powers and offering reassurances to downplay the "China threat" perception among its Asian neighbours.<2) It is commonly recognised that these policy orientations are in the right direction. The question is how successful they will be in maintaining political stability in the absence of genuine political reform. 2. The rapid increase in protests, riots, and mass petitions not only reflects exacerbating social contradictions in the context 3 of the widening gap between the rich and poor, it also demonstrates the empowerment of underprivileged groups with rising anger against corruption and abuse of power.(3) The Tiananmen Incident in June 1989 was triggered by outrage against corruption and demands for democracy. Today's Chinese leadership still refuses to respond to calls for a reversal of the official verdict on the incident. Similarly, it suppressed discussion on the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Cultural Revolution, and imposed many restrictions on the funeral of former Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang. This pattern of behaviour reveals the government's strong sense of insecurity. It is generally believed that Beijing has been very concerned with the "colour revolutions" in the post-Soviet states in recent years.

A similar situation exists in Hong Kong. Economic development alone is no longer sufficient to ensure the legitimacy of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, which confronts challenges more severe than those faced by the British colonial administration. But the Chinese leadership believes that economic growth remains the key to the territory's social and political stability. Beijing's Hong Kong policy remains within a united front framework, with no intention of introducing genuine democracy. Since the status quo is still satisfactory to the community, which has no intention of challenging the Chinese authorities, moderate economic growth dampens grievances enough to maintain stability. However, the HKSAR government lacks the legitimacy to define the priorities even in the economic and social services field. In view of Beijing's perception of threat from the pro-democracy movement, it is unlikely that it will release a timetable and roadmap to implement genuine democracy.

The impact of the Tiananmen Incident

In the spring and summer of 1989, Hong Kong people established a very strong identity with their compatriots in China while intensely following the tragic events enfolding there. A conviction emerged that as long as freedom, human rights, and democracy could not be guaranteed in China, they could not be protected in Hong Kong after 1997. When more than one million Hong Kong people marched for democracy and freedom in China and against the suppression of the student movement on 21 May 1989, a vast majority of the participants were marching for the first time in their lives. …

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