Hong Kong distances itself from Tiananmen Square memorial | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 03.06.2015
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Hong Kong distances itself from Tiananmen Square memorial

Many people in Hong Kong have chosen to stay away from this year's Tiananmen Square commemorations. The China-controlled city's youth do not identify with struggles in mainland China and want to fight their own battles.

A number of Hong Kong's pro-democracy groups will not participate in commemorations of the Tiananmen Square massacre this year. Twenty-six years ago on June 4, Chinese military crushed a pro-democracy movement in Beijing by shedding the blood of hundreds of students and activists. To date, Chinese authorities do not allow any form of commemoration of the killings. But, in the special administrative region of Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people remember the massacre every year.

After Hong Kong's largely unsuccessful pro-democracy protests last autumn, many people in the city have voiced their criticism of the significance placed on Tiananmen commemorations. The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), one of the leading protest groups, says it will not be holding Tiananmen Square vigils this year. The Student Federation of the University of Hong Kong (HKUSU) will organize its own event on June 4.

"We believe that Hong Kong can only fight for democracy in Hong Kong itself," said Feng Jingsi, of the HKUSU. "We cannot fight for democracy in mainland China while overlooking our own interests. Our local democracy protests have strengthened the Hong Kong identity and our faith in our own struggles," the activist added.

Man in front of tanks

In 1989, the Chinese military crushed a pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square

Identity and alienation

Eighteen years ago, Britain returned control of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China. Under the slogan of "one country, two systems" Hong Kong has since been governed quite independently of Beijing's influence and enjoys numerous privileges. Unlike in mainland China, Hong Kong's press is relatively unrestricted and the citizens enjoy a certain level of freedom of speech and assembly.

After Hong Kong returned to China's fold, the number of people visiting from the mainland rose substantially. According to some estimates, 47 million tourists from China visited the metropolis last year. About 9,000 mainland students study at Hong Kong universities. Politicians on both sides hoped that Hong Kong would remain closer to China, but the opposite has happened. According to a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong, 67 percent of Hong Kong's 7 million people do not consider themselves Chinese.

"It is difficult to say whether this trend will last," said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at Hong Kong's Municipal University. "But it is a fact that the confidence of Hong Kong's residents in Beijing has been steadily declining for many years," he added.

"Many people in Hong Kong believe their standard of living has not improved after 1997. Their incomes have not been able to keep pace with the inflation. This is particularly true for the young people," Cheng said.

Alienation among Hong Kong's youth is on the rise, but it is still not a mainstream phenomenon, Cheng believes.

Treading carefully

Apart from the tussle over the electoral system reforms, the number of visitors from mainland China to Hong Kong has also increased tensions between Hong Kong residents and tourists. The territory's citizens complain that visitors have strained their health, education and transport systems and have caused a price hike in their city.

Despite these tensions, independence from China is a far-fetched idea, many observers say. "Hong Kong's economy is more dependent on the Chinese economy than ever. We neither have the means nor the ability to secede from the mainland," Cheng said.

In 2003, the government wanted to add an anti-secession clause to the Basic Law of the metropolis. After mass protests, the government had to take it back. Many democracy activists in Hong Kong fear that the communist leadership in Beijing could revive the clause to increase pressure on the city. It would mean that the entire democratic movement in Hong Kong could be branded as a separatist movement and moderate forces would be discredited.

Many believe there is a need to deal carefully with Chinese authorities and focus on a local struggle for democracy. Memories of Tiananmen Square continue to inspire pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, but can also be a distraction as Hong Kong has its own battles to fight.