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Marie Holzman, a translator and expert in Chinese culture, especially in contemporary China and Chinese dissidence, has been refused a Chinese visa for several decades. President of the association, Solidarité Chine, she actively supports the diffusion of Liao Yiwu’s works, which expose the reality behind the massacres in Tianmen Square.
How would you explain the amplitude of the Hong Kong demonstrations and such public support for them?
The protestors’ demands focus on past fundamental accords being respected. The accords date back to 1984 and the “conjoint declaration” established between China and the United Kingdom, when preparing the ceding of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The U.K. was in agreement to return Hong Kong to China on condition that the “one country, two systems” principle be applied, which would enable Hong Kong to maintain its own way of life until 2047. It’s unfortunate that no one asked the advice of the Hong Kong people at the time. A referendum would have had to be organized. This democratic step was forgotten and it’s regrettable.
Whatever it may be, the Peking authorities did commit to not changing the political structures of the former colony. It was even stipulated that the Hong Kong people would be able to elect with universal suffrage their own representatives to the Legislative Council before 2017. This engagement was at the origins of the “umbrella movement” of 2014. In fact, the Chinese government only accepted that the Hong Kong citizens vote on condition that Peking choose the candidates. The Hong Kong people saw that as a slap in the face and took to the streets in great numbers.
Then Peking, eating away at the democratic rules of the territory, wanted to create an extradition law which would allow sending “criminals”, true or imagined, to prison on the continent. Well, everyone knows what a Chinese prison signifies. The fate of Nobel Prize-winner Liu Xiabo, who was tortured and died in prison, is the most tragic example of it. The Hong Kong people understood that the Chinese government wanted to obtain legal authorization to search Hong Kong for any people who displeased it. So they took to the streets in massive numbers in the month of March, 2019.
What are the demonstrators’ demands, now that the extradition law has been withdrawn?
To obtain universal suffrage and to have the right to wear masks to protect themselves from tear gas… These demands are realistic and legitimate. Peking was perfectly able to open negotiations on these points. When two million Hongkongers take to the streets, as was the case, that means that everyone is there, except for babies and the elderly. One can’t oppose the demands of a population which only asks that the “one country, two systems” rule be respected. If the revolt in Hong Kong moves those who take an interest in China, it’s because they have bad memories: 30 years ago, the Chinese government massacred pacifist students on Tianmen Square, when they were only asking to open a dialogue with the authorities. But instead of agreeing a dialogue, the Peking authorities attacked them with tear gas (today it’s water cannons… sold to them by France).
What distinguishes the current revolt from the “umbrella movement” of 2014?
The 2014 movement had leaders like Joshua Wong. Today, there aren’t any, so as to avoid their potential arrest. The demonstrators’ tactics - very rapid attacks and retreats - are very flexible and fluid “as water,” they say. But that makes the movement fragile, because manipulators and agitators can, in the absence of a framework, easily penetrate it - people creating violence to give the police a pretext to repress the movement even more violently.
Is there the same risk of repression as there was on Tianmen Square?
Control is being regained; the Chinese Army is present. But the Chinese authorities don’t need a scenario as violent as that of Tianmen. For example, now the police arrest adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18. This plunges their parents into an intolerable anguish that pushes them to want to bring the demonstrations to an end. The forces of order provoke some suicides, which possibly are assassinations. They fire real bullets at the demonstrators. We are seeing a massacre in everything but name. But as long as Westerners don’t see tanks rolling, they tell themselves that the situation isn’t too serious. What will they say when the Hong Kong dissidents are forced to go into exile to save their skins?
What is France doing?
Both houses of the American Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, have recently voted for a text of support to the demonstrators and to Hong Kong. It is an incredible message of hope for the Hong Kong people. But in France, neither the President nor its State Department take an open and frank position. Are they afraid? If so, of what? Europe sells Airbuses to China, which needs them. It would suffice to condition these sales on stopping the police violence in Hong Kong. But we prefer to say nothing. We have to believe then that the lessons from the Munich Angreement signed by Chamberlain are still not learned…
Interview by Michel Eltchaninoff
Translated from French to English by Sally Gordon-Mark