Hong Kong and China move closer to partial border reopening

Updated: November 26th, 2021 10:40 AM IST

In Opinion It may be hard to keep track of the many ways China is cracking down on Hong Kong. But this latest move cannot be ignored, the educator Shui-yin Sharon Yam and the activist Alex Chow write in a guest essay.

Hong Kong and China move closer to partial border reopening

Dr. Yam is a diasporic Hong Konger and an associate professor who teaches public advocacy and social movements. Mr. Chow is a Hong Kong activist in exile.

For nearly a quarter of a century, the Pillar of Shame has stood on the campus of Hong Kong University — a 26-foot-tall commemoration of the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Last month, the university ordered the pillar’s removal.

The order is a striking blow in the government’s ongoing campaign to erase the memory of the 1989 atrocity: First, it banned the candlelight vigil held annually on June 4, arrested the vigil’s key organizers and raided a museum that documents the history of the massacre. But this is about far more than a statue.

Along with the removal of the Pillar of Shame, political pressure from the government and university administrations has incapacitated two major university student unions. The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s union was forced to disband, and University of Hong Kong administrators withdrew recognition of its union and banned some of its members from campus.

These moves mark a potentially irreversible turning point in Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong. Whereas earlier phases targeted branches of dissent, these moves strike at the roots: Universities and student unions nourish activism and can fuel future mass mobilization against an authoritarian China.

When it ordered the removal of the Pillar of Shame from campus, the university administration demonstrated that Hong Kong’s higher education authorities appear to be doing the bidding of Beijing’s government, erasing its potential to cultivate future political leaders who would challenge China’s rule.

Uprooting civil organizations and shrinking the public space that preserves the memory and trauma of the 1989 Beijing uprising have effectively turned Hong Kong into another silent mainland city.

The pillar has symbolized freedom of speech and freedom from fear for students, teachers and citizens of Hong Kong for decades. It was first erected in Victoria Park in 1997 to mark the eighth anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre — the same year that sovereignty of Hong Kong was returned to Beijing, launching a tug of war between islanders and mainland autocrats over how the history of the 1989 pro-democracy movement and Hong Kong would be narrated.

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