Millions in Hong Kong challenge Xi’s ambitions

June 26, 2019

From the July-August 2019 issue of News & Letters

History and the future jammed together in Hong Kong during June, in the march of 180,000 commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Marches of over a million protested against a looming extradition law that would fast-track dissidents in Hong Kong to face injustice in Xi Jinping’s China.


Some of the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Hong Kong June 16, 2019. Photo: DoctorHo.

In the Spring of 1989 the people of Hong Kong had held demonstrations in solidarity with students leading mass demonstrations in dozens of cities of China. Then army tanks killed at least 3,000 people at the occupation of Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Since then, every year on June 4, activists in Hong Kong have been able to keep the memory of that movement and the massacres in Beijing and Chengdu alive.

Many marchers this year were not yet born in 1989 when more than a million students and workers marched and biked to Tiananmen Square. That revolt had begun after the death on April 15 of former Party Chairman Hu Yaobang, who had been dismissed after students in 1986-87 spearheaded demonstrations across China for science, democracy and freedom. (See “China’s youth revolt vs. Mao’s legacy”, p. 4) Gatherings that began to honor Hu steadily spread across China and deepened until the occupation of Tiananmen Square on May 4, 1989.

Rejecting the occupiers’ demands for democratization, the regime declared martial law on May 21 in response to the hunger strike on the Square. The People’s Liberation Army’s 27th Army based around Beijing was sent to clear the Square, but workers and ordinary citizens of Beijing blocked troop trucks and talked to soldiers, turning troops back. That bought time for the occupation, time even to found the Beijing Autonomous Trade Union and oppose the state-capitalist regime calling itself Marxist by singing the International. Unleashing a massacre, the regime ordered the 45th Army to clear the Square without regard to life or limb, warning soldiers who had not heard students’ demands that they were traitors.


Youth and others own the Hong Kong streets, June 16, 2019. Photo: DoctorHo

This year is 22 years after Britain returned their colony of Hong Kong to China under a “one country two systems” agreement to guarantee semi-autonomy for Hong Kong until 2047. And this years’ commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre was followed on June 9 by more than a million people protesting the Extradition Bill that would legalize dissidents being sent to face China’s injustice system. That system has a near-100% conviction rate from bogus trials. With the Extradition Bill, China would have no need to kidnap opponents as it had done to five booksellers.

When thousands of young people gathered around the Legislative Council on the night of June 12, the police reacted with violence, using the rubber bullets that Britain had used against a strike and youth uprising in 1967. On June 16, a day after government head Carrie Lam announced a delay on the Extradition Bill but not its withdrawal, almost two million (out of a Hong Kong population of seven million, the equivalent of 90 million Americans marching on Washington) marched again.

But since Carrie Lam answers not to seven million but to one—Party Chairman Xi Jinping in Beijing—she neither resigned nor conceded to protesters’ demands. While thousands of workers joined the protest, Lam did have the support of the head of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, who organized a counter-protest of just 40 people!

That pathetic counter-“protest” speaks volumes about its big brother, the All China Federation of Trade Unions, whose role is one of trying to stifle Chinese factory workers’ revolts. The surplus value created by two generations of Chinese workers producing for the world market has emboldened the global ambition of Xi, counting on investments in the Belt and Road Initiative to assert power across Asia and Europe and Africa. But Xi has made striking factory workers, student activists and lawyers representing workers and peasants the target of arrest and even extra-judicial disappearance.


Xi has simultaneously tightened repression at the edges of his empire, especially in expanding concentration camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang and in speeding up taking control of Hong Kong. He has designs on Taiwan, whose capitalist class he could work with like the capitalists on the Communist Party Central Committee.

But the people of Taiwan, which suffered its own massacres in 1947 at the hands of the Nationalists who ruled China before the 1949 Revolution, chose to commemorate the martyrs of Tiananmen Square and deny the Party of their butchers.

            —Bob McGuire

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