Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Square, 1989 and 2014

Today, in Hong Kong, thousands of students stand in the streets, declaring their anger against Beijing, who will not give them the right to choose their leaders the way they want. The police are standing by with tear gas and night sticks, and guarded by shields and barriers. Some protestors have already been arrested, and police threaten to break it all up if they attempt to occupy government buildings. Although leaders have agreed to talks with the protestors, which gives them, for the moment, an air of legitimacy.

Even worse than the police, for the students, are the members of the populace. Who stand yelling “go home!” and “pack up!” According to some reports they have even attempted to drag the protestors away. The age difference, according to all observers, is very marked. The protestors themselves are all very young, whereas those opposing them are much older.
In Tiananmen Square in 1989, protests also took place against the way things were run in Beijing. So this is not the first time. In the Square, in 1989, it was, as it is now, a protest asking for democracy. This time however, in Beijing itself, and it had the support of many of the town people themselves. Some estimates of the crowds in the square are placed at over one million.
But Beijing was the home of the Communist Party, and the protests were not tolerated. Over three hundred thousand troops were sent, and thousands of protestors died. To this day it is against the laws of China to celebrate those who died, or commemorate what happened.
The protests happening today are a major embarrassment, certainly, for president Xi Jinping. Especially ahead of president Obama’s visit to his country on November tenth. For the leader of the free world to show up and find thousands of young people asking for democracy, and not getting it, could cause more difficulties than Jinping would like to think about. There have been some watered down statements from the United States in general terms supporting democracy to the Chinese, with whom American diplomats usually attempt to keep the topic off of human rights. But America has been politely told to mind its own business.
Of course, all of this is assuming that the protestors are still around on the tenth of November, when the president steps of the plain. They could fizzle out, like Occupy Wall Street, (whatever did happen to them?) or-and it certainly would a horrible or-since China is still China, a repeat of Tiananmen Square, although admittedly on a smaller scale, could happen.
The agenda for the president’s visit officially has nothing to do with Hong Kong, although White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answered “yes” when asked the question of weather or not America would like to see the protests spread to mainland China. The president is going to speak about things like Climate Change and Ebola.
There is no end of sources of friction between China and the US. From Japan’s borders to North Korea threatening every other week to blow us up, we don’t need thousands of students for an excuse to get mad at each other. But it certainly doesn’t help.

Andrew C Abbott

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