HONG KONG: Mass rally to eclipse HK handover festivities
Some 300,000 Hong Kongers are expected at pro-democracy march to emphasise their separate identity
The Straits Times
Thursday, July 1, 2004
By Mary Kwang
TODAY'S seventh anniversary celebrations to mark Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty are expected to be overshadowed by a mass rally that seeks to emphasise the former British colony's separate identity from the mainland rather than their unity.
Participants of the march, who are expected to number 300,000, will mouth pro-democracy slogans and carry banners with messages like 'Rebuild Hong Kong', 'We Love Hong Kong' and 'Trust Hong Kong'.
This is the second consecutive year in which a mass demonstration is to be held on the anniversary.
Organisers are rallying the public to join the protest against Hong Kong's weak administration, led by embattled Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa.
Another theme is universal suffrage, since the central government has ruled out full direct elections in Hong Kong in 2007 and 2008.
Ms Christine Loh, a former legislator and now head of a civic group, called on marchers to celebrate Hong Kong's strong civil society and growing democratic movement.
Media relations manager Patricia Yam, who will be taking part in the rally, said: 'My friends and I have been brought up to care only about what happens in Hong Kong.
'I'll march to make a stand for freedom of expression in Hong Kong and the right to choose my own leaders.
'I just want Tung to go. I am not interested in the mainland nor the central government.'
Professor Anthony Cheung of City University said that Ms Yam's fiercely Hong Kong-centric views were not dominant in the territory.
He said: 'People who march today know that there's little they can do to determine the nation's destiny. So, they articulate a kind of Hong Kong-ness.'
He said that the paradoxical relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland meant that a gulf would remain between the two sides.
The paradox is: Beijing worries that if the Hong Kong people identified more strongly with the mainland, they would want more say in mainland affairs, while Hong Kong people fear that they would be overwhelmed by the mainland if they drew closer to Beijing politically.
'Hong Kong people are seeking an identity in the post-1997 period,' said Prof Cheung, adding that the July 1 protest would become an annual event.
Offering a different perspective, commentator Ming Kai Lau said that weak civic education in Hong Kong schools meant that the residents did not identify so fiercely with the nation.
He said: 'The handover celebratory spirit is not strong also because people here don't have strong feelings against the former British colonial administration.
'Compounding this is that, as a leader, Tung is seen as worse than Chris Patten, who was the last British governor.'
He said: 'Furthermore, handover celebrations are directed from top down, and do not spring from bottom up.'
Mr Tung, together with some 3,000 guests, will attend a flag-raising ceremony at 8am today. That will be followed by a reception for about 1,100 guests, including his ministers, lawmakers, foreign diplomats and government officials.
The People's Liberation Army will hold annual open-house functions for the public to visit some of its bases here.
Pro-Beijing groups here are staging small-scale community activities to mark the anniversary. Among the majority of residents who are not joining the rally is bank officer May Auyeung.
Referring to the summer temperature of over 33 deg C, she said: 'It's too hot to be out in the open. I'm afraid of sunstroke.'
Also keeping away is housewife Cheryl Wong, who said: 'The march will achieve nothing if it sends the wrong signal. The protest should not be against Beijing. We are so lucky to have Beijing behind Hong Kong.'
Office worker Cheung Wai Sing said: 'I am staying home because I don't like the democrats and I don't like the pro-Beijing camp.'
Date Posted: 7/1/2004