Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil always set the city apart from China. Those days may now be over

For an event that happened almost 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away, the Tiananmen Square massacre has become deeply embedded in Hong Kong’s psyche. That’s because for the past three decades, Hong Kong was the only place where major commemorations were held, including marches, church services, and huge candlelit vigils in the city’s Victoria Park.

After Hong Kong became part of China in 1997, the continuation of these events was always seen as a major litmus test for the city’s ongoing autonomy and democratic freedoms, supposedly guaranteed until 2047 by its de facto constitution, the Basic Law, under the principle of “one country, two systems.”

The 30th anniversary in 2019 saw one of the biggest turnouts at the Victoria Park vigil, with organizers claiming some 180,000 people joined the commemoration (though police said it was closer to 40,000). That anniversary came amid escalating tensions over a proposed extradition bill between Hong Kong and China: just five days later, over a million people marched against it, and in the months that followed, the city was consumed by increasingly violent protests and police crackdowns.

In the wake of those protests, Beijing introduced a national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing the city’s semi-democratic legislature to criminalize secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers. That law has been used to crack down on a host of political activity, and almost every prominent pro-democracy politician and activist is either in prison — or headed there.

Thousands took part in a vigil for Tiananmen in 2020, despite the event being banned on coronavirus grounds.
As talk of the law rumbled ahead of its abrupt passing on June 30 last year, many saw June 4, 2020, as potentially the final opportunity for a major commemoration. Despite authorities banning the Victoria Park vigil on pandemic grounds, tens of thousands still turned out to mark the event peacefully, and police took a hands-off approach — though subsequently arrested and charged a number of activists deemed to have “organized” the protest.
This year, the gloves are off. The city’s Security Bureau said Saturday that any rally on June 4 would be deemed an unauthorized assembly, and “no one should take part in it, or advertise or publicize it, or else he or she may violate the law.”

Offenders could face up to five years in prison, while those promoting the event could be jailed for up to 12 months, the bureau added.

Already this week one activist — known locally as Grandma Wong — was arrested for staging a solo Tiananmen protest, while the city’s recently reopened June 4 Museum was forced to shut again. Organizers of the candlelit vigil have canceled the event for the first time in over 30 years, asking instead that people “mourn June 4 with perseverance and wisdom, under lawful, safe, peaceful and rational circumstances, in their own way, at the right time and place,” though that didn’t stop one of them being detained in the early hours of Friday.

Likely the safest way to remember Tiananmen will be behind closed doors — similar to how the event is marked in mainland China, by the few who still choose to remember.

Around Asia

Business of China

If China needed a sign Washington’s hostility to Beijing wasn’t going to thaw under Joe Biden, this is it.

On Thursday, President Biden expanded a Trump-era ban on American investment in dozens of Chinese firms that Washington believes are linked to China’s military.

Under the executive order, Americans are prohibited from owning or trading securities tied to 59 companies, citing the threat of Chinese surveillance technology. The original order, signed by President Donald Trump in November, applied to 31 Chinese companies that the administration said “enable the development and modernization” of China’s military and “directly threaten” US security.

Biden’s new order goes into effect on August 2.

Tech giants including smartphone maker Huawei and Hikvision, a major manufacturer and suppliers of video surveillance equipment, remain on the list, as do some of China’s biggest telecommunications firms, including China Mobile, China Telecommunications and China Unicom.

Asked Thursday in Beijing about the expected Biden announcement — the move was reported earlier by Bloomberg — China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Washington’s actions marked a “total disregard of facts” and “hurt the interests of global investors including those in the US.”

Several of the companies that have been named in both orders have previously dismissed claims that they were tied to the Chinese military as groundless.

The move suggests that Washington isn’t rushing to make amends with Beijing. Analysts have previously said that while Biden will likely strike a more predictable and diplomatic tone with China than Trump did, they don’t expect the administration to ease up on tech and trade policy.

Even so, the countries are restarting talks on some issues. Beijing said Thursday it is now having “normal communication” with Washington on trade and the economy, citing recent discussions between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as “professional, frank and constructive.”

— By Jill Disis and Kyle Blaine

China will stay shut until 2022

China has delivered over 700 million coronavirus vaccine doses, but may not relax border restrictions until next year at the earliest, a top health official said Thursday.

Life in China has been relatively normal for months now, and vaccinations are roaring along — some 40% of the population is now inoculated against Covid-19 and it shouldn’t be long until China reaches herd immunity level.

However, because of the success of the country in containing the virus, there is very little of it floating around to test whether its vaccines will stop transmission as well as deaths — unlike in the United States, where authorities know the vaccines are working because infection numbers are dropping, along with serious cases.
This leaves China with some “unique difficulties” when it comes to reopening, said Feng Zijian, the deputy director General of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Bloomberg.

“I don’t think we’ve got to that point — if we try to open even when 60% or 80% of population are vaccinated, it could still lead to a severe outbreak,” Feng said Thursday at a conference in the eastern city of Qingdao, the news outlet reported. “It largely depends on the technical considerations, societal consensus and political concerns.”

This curse of success has become something of a pattern across Asia, with territories that excelled in the early response to the pandemic — Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia — now struggling with vaccines, while some places in the West race ahead. Part of the problem is that when there is little risk of catching Covid, people are less willing to get vaccinated, which makes authorities more wary about opening up.

After a rocky start, China has had one of the best responses to the pandemic globally, but that could come to haunt the country if officials are nervous to test that success by op.

Quoted and noted

“There is reasonable ground for suspecting that the publication of (2021hkcharter.com) is likely to constitute offences endangering national security.”

— A letter from police to Israeli hosting company Wix, demanding it remove a website set up by several overseas Hong Kong activists. One of the activists, Nathan Law, shared it online, along with a statement demanding Wix restore access, which it did, claiming the website’s removal was an accident, in an email to Law. The company has yet to comment publicly.

Photo of the day

On this site, in 1989: The scene outside Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate in the early hours of June 4, 2021.

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