Record Crowd Expected For Hong Kong's Tiananmen Memorial

Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in Hong Kong's Victoria Park to remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Steve Inskeep talks to Chris Buckley of "The New York Times," who's in Hong Kong.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's go next to Hong Kong. That city's Victoria Park is the site of an annual vigil to remember the victims in Tiananmen Square. Demonstrations in Hong Kong are the only public commemorations of those killings in 1989 that are allowed anywhere in areas under Chinese rule. The New York Times' Chris Buckley is in Hong Kong, he's on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.

CHRIS BUCKLEY: Good to be here.

INSKEEP: What is the annual demonstration like in Hong Kong?

BUCKLEY: Well, the annual demonstration happens in Victoria Park and it attracts tens of thousands of people every year. This year being the 25th anniversary, particularly at a time when Hong Kong relations with mainland China are quite tense, I think people are expecting a larger and even more passionate turnout this year.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people that Hong Kong is part of China now, but is under somewhat different rules. Is that why people can get away with demonstrating?

BUCKLEY: That's right. Being a former British colony under the so-called One Country, Two Systems arrangement, Hong Kong still maintains its own system of laws and has some autonomy from mainland controls and regulation. So although many Hong Kong people believe that freedom of speech has been eroding, it's certainly true that this part of China still has quite a robust tradition of free speech, including commemoration of June 4th.

INSKEEP: Who are the people who show up for these demonstrations? Are they local people in Hong Kong or are they people from somewhere else in China who come there to demonstrate?

BUCKLEY: Well, particularly because I've spent a lot of time in mainland China, I'm struck by - well, I was struck last year, first time I attended the rally - by the number of mainland people who turn up out of curiosity or because they want to take part in the observances. But for the most part, the crowd is local Hong Kong people and it's a remarkable range of ages and a lot of families turn up as well. I remember last year it rained heavily - it poured down but it was quite striking to see it - when the heavens opened up, hardly anybody from the crowd left. I think people like to make the demonstration an opportunity to show that they want to speak for their own political principles and beliefs.

INSKEEP: Now, are they using this commemoration to remember the past or to make a statement about now?

BUCKLEY: Well, I think it's essentially both because in many different ways the issues of commemorating June 4th is still alive for many Chinese people and Hong Kong people as well. The question about what the limit should be on the powers of the party state - the rights that people should have to criticize the government and to speak freely. So it's commemorating the past and it's commemorating those who died around Beijing and other cities, but it's also speaking to very contemporary issues as well.

INSKEEP: How much, if at all, can the media cover a demonstration like this?

BUCKLEY: Well in Hong Kong, as I said, there's a very robust tradition of free speech. So reporters here can act quite freely and, of course, many people very eager to put their viewpoint forward and there's a whole variety of views in Hong Kong that you can come up against when it comes to questions about - views about June four and views about the Chinese government.

INSKEEP: Do the Chinese authorities in Hong Kong take any notice whatsoever of this annual demonstration?

BUCKLEY: I think they pay attention to it. And if you go to the rally in Victoria Park, there do seem to be a number of people - you can't identify who they are or where they're from but they look like they're paying attention to who's coming going and they may be there on behalf of the Chinese authorities - we can only guess. But there's only so much that the mainland Chinese authorities can do to directly intervene in events like this. They can watch but I don't think that's going to deter the great majority of Hong Kong people from deciding whether to go, or not, on their own.

INSKEEP: Chris Buckley is a correspondent for the New York Times. He is based in Hong Kong. Thanks very much.

BUCKLEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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