Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners must beware ghost of Tiananmen Square – Kenny MacAskill

Unwell and injured protesters leave the Hong Kong Poytechnic University after clashes between pro-democracy campaigners and police (Picture: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Unwell and injured protesters leave the Hong Kong Poytechnic University after clashes between pro-democracy campaigners and police (Picture: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
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Democracy campaigners in Hong Kong need to realise they are unlikely to get significant international help and know when to push and when to back off, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Pulling on a T-shirt last week, I noted it was from my trip to Hong Kong in 2016 and it brought back fond memories. The great natural harbour and the huge urban expanse surrounding it provide one of the great vistas of the world. But what a troubled land.

Reading a piece from the Brookings Institute compounded my pessimism. That institution is one I admire, being both hugely well informed and politically non partisan. The author expressed natural sympathy for those seeking democracy but counselled caution. Whimsically quoting the Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler” he wrote you’ve “got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them”.

And he’s right. Politics is the art of the possible and there’s only so far you can go with China as it’s presently constituted.

They’re willing to allow some leeway in a highly centralised state but there are limits.

I was also minded of going around the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk a few weeks back, even though it’s on a different continent. Lech Walesa and his colleagues were heroic. But it was hard to think of an alternative in the early 1980s to General Jaruelska. That was in the days of the Soviet Union before Mikhail Gorbachev. Glasnost hadn’t been heard of and the spectre of invasion, as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, loomed. In Hong Kong, it’s the ghost of Tiananmen Square that looms. Trump doesn’t care and the West isn’t going to intervene. Time needs bought until change can come. In the interim, don’t risk it all.

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