Hong Kong to honour Tiananmen victims

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TENS OF thousands of Hong Kong people are expected to take part in a mass act of defiance tonight by turning out to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. On the Chinese mainland, any attempt to mark the event would be quickly crushed.

Before the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, Qian Qichen, the minister previously responsible for Hong Kong affairs, made it clear rallies of this kind would not be tolerated under the new order.

However, the rally has not been banned, and hamfisted efforts to deny the organisers a venue have come to nothing. A government official who declined to be named said: "What do you expect us to do? We don't want a confrontation over Tiananmen. We know this is something which is extremely sensitive."

The official line, frequently expressed by Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, is that people should stop looking back and focus on the future. The massacre, referred to as the "Tiananmen incident" in official jargon, is viewed as a hiccup which has nothing to do with Hong Kong's present circumstances.

On Tuesday, local councillors rejected an application to allow the permanent display of a statue called the Pillar of Shame, which commemorates the massacre. Wu Suk-ching, one of the government-appointed councillors, argued that "this incident happened in Peking and we don't need to focus too much on events happening in Peking".

This view is not shared by Cheng Yiu-tong, one of the rally organisers, who said: "Now we are under Chinese rule it is a lot more meaningful for Hong Kong people to fight for democracy in China."

In the recent elections for the Hong Kong legislature, candidates supporting the democracy movement won two-thirds of the popular vote. The main pro- China party was put on the defensive in the campaign, when its leaders tried to deny they supported the Tiananmen massacre, in which hundreds were killed.

Though the authorities will not admit it, they are well aware feelings about the massacre are still running high.

A handful of well-known Chinese dissidents, who would face arrest on the mainland, are allowed to remain in Hong Kong and conduct propaganda activities.

Moreover, the local media, which was restrained in reporting the massacre at the time, has since become bolder. The release of the Chinese student leader Wang Dan a few weeks ago was greeted by a barrage of sympathetic coverage.

The once bellicose Chinese officials stationed in Hong Kong have been removed and replaced by low-key bureaucrats who rarely speak in public and have, to date, made no comment on local activities in support of the democracy movement.

The authorities in Peking have clearly ordered their representatives in Hong Kong to leave the limelight to the administration of Tung Chee- hwa.

China trusts Mr Tung, confident that his conservative, authoritarian views do not conflict with their own. In practice this means Hong Kong has a certain leeway in tolerating protests.

But there are limits. The new legislature, which has a pro-government majority owing to the way the election system was rigged, is expected to pass a new law on sedition and subversion which threatens to make anti- Chinese protests illegal.

The most senior Chinese official jailed after the Tiananmen Square massacre has spoken publicly for the first time since his release, calling for controls on the power of the Communist Party.

In a warning which will embarrass China's leaders, Bao Tong said: "If there are no controls on a power, internally it could be unpredictable and internationally it could also be unpredictable."