How to Avoid Repeating the Tragedy of Tiananmen Square in Hong Kong
Image Credit: Flickr/ alcuin lai

How to Avoid Repeating the Tragedy of Tiananmen Square in Hong Kong


As the Occupy Central movement deepens in Hong Kong, the whole world is watching with anxiety and hope. What will happen? Will Beijing back down? Who will win? Will Chief Executive CY Leung step down? While most media attention focuses on questions like these, we believe that such an approach is ultimately counterproductive and some changes (both realistic and desirable) can be made to turn this crisis into a triumph for both Hong Kong and mainland China. The English word ‘crisis’ in Chinese actually consists of two words: danger and opportunity. A crisis itself is not necessarily a bad thing — it also presents an opportunity to solve the problem.

To achieve that goal, the first change should be the framing of the movement. Instead of framing it as a typical state vs civil society confrontation, all sides should see this movement as an opportunity for different groups with different opinions to solve a common problem in a peaceful and non-violent fashion. The problem should be crystal clear: how can Hong Kong maintain its stability, prosperity, democracy, and freedom? No need for winners vs losers; no need for us vs them. Hong Kong is part of China, and China is also part of Hong Kong. Realizing this interdependent relationship is the first step toward genuine reconciliation.

One more change worth making is for all sides to practice self-restraint. Mutual restraint and mutual respect is the key to any effective dialogue. For the Occupy Central movement organizers, a promise should be made that their movement will not escalate to more violent and extreme means such as a hunger strike, personal attacks against Special Administrative Region (SAR) officials, and attacking and occupying government headquarters. The Occupy Central movement leaders once promised that if the movement turned violent, they would ask for an immediate halt. They should keep that promise. For the Hong Kong SAR government, a promise should be made that lethal force will never be used to clear up the movement. Then a formal meeting should be arranged for both sides to sit down calmly and discuss the real issue: how can Hong Kong’s democracy be enhanced in a more effective and realistic way? Movement organizers should acknowledge that they will abide by the “one country, two systems” framework and state that they love Hong Kong as well as China. Beijing should also recognize that the majority of those who are involved in the Occupy Central movement are patriotic and hold good intentions. They are not troublemakers.

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Moreover, all sides should be patient and realistic. Negotiations can be long and exhausting. Both should avoid the mentality of “winner takes all.” For Hong Kong, it is crucial to understand that democracy is an important cause of the crisis, but it is not the whole problem. Rome wasn’t built in one night and neither is democracy. For mainland China, it is imperative to realize that people’s voice should be respected and autonomy is not always a threat to national security. A mechanism and channel should be found so that democrats in Hong Kong have a fair chance to compete in the chief executive elections. At the same time, democrats in Hong Kong should declare their allegiance to China and stop anti-CCP slogans and activities. In this regard, Hong Kong might very well learn from Finland’s experience, as public intellectual Simon Shen has argued.

25 years ago, a tragedy struck China. Maybe some people and some forces want to see another Tiananmen in Hong Kong. We, as Chinese, should never allow that to happen again. Both the Hong Kong SAR government and the Occupy Central movement have the compelling responsibility to prevent another Tiananmen. An historical opportunity lies ahead of Hong Kong and China. If grasped, not only will Hong Kong continue to prosper and develop, the whole of greater China (including Taiwan) will also benefit tremendously. After all, socialist core values include democracy, freedom, and harmony. It is time now for all sides to work hard to realize them.

Chen Dingding is an assistant professor of Government at the University of Macau. Wang Jianwei is professor and head of the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau.

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