International Asia 30 years after , a look at ’s advice...

30 years after Tiananmen Square, a look at Lee Kuan Yew’s advice to Hong Kong then

Lee Kuan Yew told Hong Kong’s Executive Council and Legislative Council members after the massacre at Tiananmen Square to adopt a “non-confrontational approach” instead of “fighting ”, these remarks were documented on October 20, 1989




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June 4 marks the 30th anniversary of the demonstrations in ’s , which held the whole world transfixed, waiting to see what Beijing would do in the face of the student protests.

This year, in the months leading to June 4, several activists have been arrested or “disappeared,” most likely to prevent the remembrance of June 4, 1989, an event that is greeted with deafening silence in China.

At the same time that activists have been detained, live-streaming services have also scheduled maintenance work for this time, meaning they will be unavailable for people to use on the day of the anniversary.

On June 2, Sunday, General Wei Fenghe, the Defence Minister of China, justified the events of June 4, 1989, one of the rare times when the matter was officially and publicly spoken about.

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At a forum on national security in Singapore, General Wei said, “That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence.”

He also suggested that the sharp crackdown on dissent at Tiananmen Square aided with the country’s economic ascent in the last three decades.

The crackdown on the student protestors resulted in the deaths of hundreds, perhaps even as many as one thousand people. The exact number of casualties remains unknown since Beijing has been tight-lipped on the matter ever since it occurred, but the massacre left a profound impact not only on China but the rest of the world.

And even as China has emerged since then to become the second largest economy around the globe, the events of June 4, 1989, have not been forgotten.

Demonstration in Washington DC

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In Washington DC in the evening of June 1, Saturday, the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars gathered together the biggest group they’ve ever had in commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre, many of whom were first-time attendees and young people.

The Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars was actually formed in 1989 in response to the events that happened on June 4.

One of the leaders of the overseas Chinese dissidents’ community, Wei Jingsheng, says he saw the number of attendees dwindle over the years, but recently more people have begun to come to the demonstration once again.

After the crackdown at Tiananmen Square, the United States gave thousands of permanent residency permits to Chinese students under the 1992 Chinese Students Protection Act.

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The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports Mr Wei, who has been in exile in the US since 1997 after having been jailed in China for 18 years, as saying, “Many people were afraid to show their faces, worried the Chinese Communist Party would come after them. But in recent years, more people have come out.”

What said after the Tiananmen Square Massacre

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, told Hong Kong’s Executive Council and Legislative Council members after the massacre at Tiananmen Square to adopt a “non-confrontational approach” instead of “fighting China.”

He had previously met with the council members in Kuala Lumpur earlier, but later told the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher what advice he had given them.

PM Lee believed that the residents of Hong Kong must negotiate or plead with Beijing, according to a SCMP report.

The private secretary to Mrs Thatcher at that time, Charles Powell, documented the remarks of PM Lee on October 20, 1989.

Files that were declassified from Britain’s National Archives in London last December showed that Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs Thatcher talked about the situation in Hong Kong and China at a meeting on that date.

Mr Powell wrote that PM Lee “had said he would not dream of offering gratuitous advice. His actual advice, to the Hong Kong delegation, was that they should not fight China; sovereignty was absolute in international law.

They should plead or bargain with China, and organise themselves so that they could do potential damage to China’s interests.”

According to the declassified records, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister said, “there are about 200,000 people in Hong Kong who really mattered. They should band together and threaten to leave Hong Kong, bringing down its administration and economic life, if the Chinese interfered.

This would allow them to stay in Hong Hong while all was going smoothly, but give them the right to leave if necessary. This was the way to deal with China, using a non-confrontational approach, and the Chinese would have to listen,” wrote Mr Powell./ TISG

Read related: On 30th anniversary, China says Tiananmen crackdown was ‘correct’ policy

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