Saturday, 30 June 2012

Hong Kong: 15 years on

Prince ("ridiculous rigmarole") Charles, and a sniffly Governor Patten.
Hong Kong: June 30 1997
Chris Patten cried, but the rain washed his tears away.
Many others cried not just its last Governor.  For that was the day fifteen years ago at midnight tonight when Hong Kong was handed back to China.  But many and many more, smiled and exulted, as 155 years of British rule came to an end.  Though not China's army, the PLA: they were stony-faced as they stood to rock-like attention in the trucks bringing them across the border from Shenzhen.
And still the rain... so much that it dominated international coverage: the BBC said the "skies were crying for Hong Kong". Chinese media said the rain had come to wash away the "last vestiges of colonialism". (The Hong Kong media, ever pragmatic, simply noted "it rained a lot"...).
We were here in Hong Kong on that day, Mrs Battle and I.  We sat ourselves at a pub in Wanchai, watched the ceremony, a "ridiculous rigmarole" with its "appalling old waxworks" as Prince Charles unforgettably described the ceremony and the Chinese leaders attending.
We watched the troops arrive at stern attention in the back of open trucks, watched the tanks and the armored personnel carriers and the mobile artillery, in lines long, an arresting sight which sent a slight shiver down the spine, buttock-tightening stuff.
But then it disappeared, this army, never to be seen again (or rarely).
And much has changed and little has changed.
Yet I don't recall that we were apprehensive that night, Mrs Battle and I.
Fourteen years before, in Canberra, 1983, I was in the Office of National Assessments, the intelligence analysis body for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.  I had co-written an Assessment of the future of Hong Kong after handover with my old mate Ross Maddock, a colleague from my days in the Australian Embassy in Peking.
This was just after Thatcher had gone to China and agreed with Deng Xiaoping that there would indeed be a handover.  Up to then some had argued that Britain could retain Hong Kong on the basis that the island of Hong Kong had been granted in perpetuity; it was only Kowloon and the New Territories that were on a 99-year lease to expire on June 30th 1997.
Thatcher's visit put paid to that idea; a handover would happen.  The succeeding years would work out what bureaucrats call the "modalities".
Ross and I thought our Assessment was rather "hard-headed".  That is, we were basically pessimistic about post-handover Hong Kong.  Not because we thought that China would breach the conditions of any agreement reached, at least not explicitly.  But because Chinese bureaucrats were brought up in a Leninist-style bureaucratic state and couldn't help interfering, thinking that doing so would be in the best interests of Hong Kong.  They didn't know what made Hong Kong tick: "positive non-interventionism" it was called by Financial Secretary John Cowperthwaite back in 1971. That is, a government set parameters with the rule of law and basic freedoms, provision of infrastructure and so on, while the economy was left to its own devices with market-based decision making. This policy worked pretty well and had put Hong Kong regularly at the top of world economic freedom indexes.
Despite the views we put in that Assessment 14 years before, on the day of the handover itself I didn't feel any anxiety, just interest in what would happen and a hope that the Chinese would keep their hands off. I guess the reason for being so phlegmatic -- despite the earlier "hard-headed" Assessment --  was that the moment had finally arrived, it was here, it couldn't be influenced, at least not by me, and all one could do was hope for the best. If things went wrong, we could simply move back to Australia.
But we haven't had to.  The Chinese government has not interfered, at least overtly.  The only time it has done so is when the Hong Kong government -- unnecessarily in my view -- has sought rulings from Beijing on matters of the Basic Law. Hong Kong has weathered many storms since 1997: the Asian financial crisis of '98, the SARS epidemic, the GFC, all these and yet the economy has purred along, unemployment is down around 4%.  Freedoms of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, freedom in the economy, all have remained intact. [I won't get into the issue here of the influence of the Taipans, the oligopolies and monopolies; income inequality is rising; pollution is terrible;  not all is as rosy and free as we like to think.  But still...]
And for us, for Mrs Battle and me, Hong Kong has been good.  We founded a successful business in 2000, sold it in 2007, and live comfortably.  She works in a high-powered job; I'm retired, travel, sail, build guitars and boats....
Fifteen years further on?  The rain comes down again today from tropical storm Doksuri, just as it did that night in '97.  Maybe that's another omen: this time optimistic, I think. I hope.  And I hope I'm not as wrong about that as I was in the '83 assessment.
For it remains a great city, this.  Vibrant, alive, efficient, convenient, safe, pragmatic, diverse and  beautiful (yes, beautiful).  Hong Kong, the "fragrant harbour, "the city where dreams come true"...
RELATED: "15 things we love and hate about Hong Kong since the handover"
LATER: fun foto:
Lower the Flag; raise the Kilt: 24 April 1997
Later: linked here.

Friday, 29 June 2012

"Amsterdam Gets a Harsh Lesson in Islam 101"

"Yes, I am trying to implement sharia in the west"....
This is an interesting article by the reliable Bruce Bawer.  Bawer is interesting himself -- a multilingual polymath, author, jewish and gay -- hence has particular concern for the Islamisation of Europe.
In this article he reports on a recent event in Amsterdam -- a talk by British sharia scholar Haitham al-Haddad, in which al-Haddad defended the death penalty for apostates and imposition of sharia law in the west (which of course would be very bad for non-Muslims -- and indeed for Muslim women and homosexuals too).
Bawer is shocked. Not by what Haddad had to say, but by the fact that his audience of good Dutch burghers was shocked: that they had never heard of these basic facts of Islamic jurisprudence...
I was shocked too.  I was shocked that in the year 2012, these Dutch infidels – intellectual infidels – professed to be shocked, and indeed gave every indication of being sincerely shocked, when they heard a recognized Islamic authority spell out basic facts of Islamic belief.  These are the same basic facts that Geert Wilders has been talking about for years.  It was for daring to speak these facts – for, in effect, reporting on the same barbaric beliefs and practices that al-Haddad was now not only describing but defending – that Wilders had been hauled into court on charges of having insulted al-Haddad’s faith.  Pim Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wilders – all of them had been reviled around the world as Islamophobes for stating these same facts.  But on that evening at De Balie it was almost as if none of these critics of Islam had ever opened their mouths.
Read it all

"Pakistani Public Opinion Ever More Critical of U.S."

By Barry Blitt, via Vanity Fair
An "ally" where three-quarters of the population sees you as the "enemy".  Pew Research.
We should dump them.
For those that say -- and all of the US Administration does -- that we have to keep them as "allies" because otherwise things would be even worse, Christopher Hitchens has the answer in "From Abbotabad to Worse", in July 2011.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

In defence of Hong Kong. Again...

Letter to South China Morning Post, 26 June:
UPDATE: published on 4th July as "Contrast with Mainland is stark"
Yet another emotional and incoherent letter from Cynthia Sze (“Dark history of imperial exploitation”, June 25).
Hong Kong is indeed in a good position since the handover, though “better” is arguable.
The reason for that good position is the system that was handed over peacefully in July 1997: the rule of law;  freedom of speech and assembly; a competent and uncorrupt government.  All these are in sharp contrast with the mainland. I studied Chinese and worked in China in the early seventies and have personal experience of the stark differences between the mainland and Hong Kong.  Many of these still exist, corruption and abuse of power the chief amongst them.  (Mind you, I still had a fun and unforgettable time!)
Sze says Hong Kong people “keep annual vigil for June 4”.  Yes indeed, but try doing that in Beijing, Ms Sze, and see how long it is before you’re tossed in jail by “China’s able government”.
The history of British imperialism is not blemish free, a fact fully recognised by the British themselves, who carry out constant self-criticism of their imperial past.  But it’s nonsense to note only the “atrocities” of “imperial exploitation”, without also noting that in the case of Hong Kong our good position is based on principles of government and civil society instituted by Britain.
The Queen has nothing to apologise for, Ms Sze. Why not concentrate your energies on getting the “able” Chinese government to apologise for June 4?
(disclosure: I am not British but Australian — another horrid ex colony! -  who now considers Hong Kong home).

Yours, etc, 
Later: SCMP letter today, 29th June, taking Sze to task.  Immediately below the fold...
Sze's earlier letters below the fold..

"Factor in natural capital, and China's growth rate plunges"

China's GDP is a lot lower than many think...
I think there's a lot in the thought that we shouldn't concentrate on GDP alone, but also look at the costs of making that GDP.  Other contries have tried it: Bhutan, for example, has a "happiness index" or some such, which attempts to look at more than just the creating of goods and services, and that concept has gained some traction in recent years.
Our fine South China Morning Post columnist, Tom Holland, reports on a new measure from the United Nations: the "Inclusive Wealth Index".  If you apply this to China, it comes in not second in the world, after the US, but third after Japan and about equal to that of Germany, and of course in per capita terms much lower.  Intuitively, if one visits China, this makes sense. There's a huge depredation on the environment in China's mid-teens economic growth rates, not to mention that much of the created wealth remains in the sticky hands of official elites.  Moreover, other measures show that each point of China's GNP uses much more energy to create than the equivalent in the US, Japan or Europe.
Tom's article below the fold, with thanks to him and SCMP.
BTW: what I didn't know till quite recently is that the whole concept of GNP/GDP is a relatively recent construct.  It's been with us for all our lives, but not much more that that.  Yet we're now obsessed -- blinded? -- by it.  Governments rise and fall on it.  Time to look at some new ways to measure our well-being and success that are gentler on the earth?

"Peak oil nuts may be right, but for all the wrong reasons"

We have more oil reserves today than 30 years ago
I've read a lot about "peak oil" in recent months, especially on the Crooked Timber site (left-of-centre, academic).  Tom Holland, our fine columnist of the South China Morning Post, has an interesting article in yesterday's paper.
His article below the fold, no link as it's behind a pay-wall, so thanks to Tom and SCMP....

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

"Radicalised" convert to Islam set to Auto-plode

This story is interesting for several reasons:

1.  That it's in the Huffington Post, which usually doesn't report anything that reflects badly on the Religion of Peace: and this one certainly does.
2.  That the police and other counter terror units know about his plans and yet seem to have nothing that they can pick him up for (though I assume there's much more happening behind the scenes than we know...)
3.  That the "radicalisation" he goes through in his journey in Islam leads him to conclude he must indiscriminately kill infidels.  In no other religion does "radicalisation" lead to that conclusion.

Here's Raymond Ibrahim on that very issue, just a few days ago:
.... we must acknowledge that the word "radicalization" simply means "to go to the root or origin of something," in this case, religion: a Muslim radical goes to the root teachings of Islam; a Christian radical goes to the root teachings of Christianity. Accordingly, there are certainly "Christian radicals" in America. The question is, do they pose the same risks to America as Muslim radicals?
Green and all moral relativists naturally do not want to pursue such a question, opting to pretend that any form of "radicalization"—regardless of the "root teachings"—is evil. They are certainly not interested in determining the fundamentals of Christianity and Islam, and whether they are equally prone to violence, terrorism, conquest, etc. While this is not the place to contrast modern Christianity's apolitical and largely passive nature with modern Islam's political and largely aggressive nature—a theme elaborated here—suffice it to say that, while thousands of modern-day Muslim leaders are on record quoting Islamic scriptures to justify violence and hate, one is hard pressed to find examples of modern Christian leaders preaching violence and hate—and justifying it through scripture. [full article]

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sharia: what does it say about non-Muslims?

Islamic Sharia law: hardly heard of in the MSM a year ago, is now subject to daily discussion.  Most recently, interest is heightened by the Muslim Brotherhood presidential win in Egypt and its plans to institute Sharia law there.  What will it mean for Muslims, for non-Muslims, for the rights of minorities, for women?
The short answer is: "nothing good".
I thought I’d write a mini series about what the Sharia law says about various issues: about non-Muslims, about women, about Jihad, about charity, about apostasy, about homosexuals, about “honour” killings.
The source for all these topics will be The Umdat al-Salik, (the “Reliance of the Traveller” in English), sub-titled "A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law".
This is the authoritative summary of Sharia law, in Arabic with facing English text, authorised by the al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most authoritative source of Islamic Sunni law for the Muslim world.  It is also authorised by International Institute of Islamic Thought and the Fiqh Council of North America.  All references are to the numbering of the Amana Publications edition of 1991.
I have followed the topic via the index to the Amana Publications, page 1183, so it is not in order of importance of the topic: hence you will see the topic of the right to kill non-Muslims without penalty jostling next to the issue of where pious Muslims should send their children to school.
I have not left out any important topic and have also included at the end those provisions I consider positive in Sharia's treatment of non-Muslims.
What's the summary?  Well, you can read and make your own judgement.
For myself, I find it hard to come to any other conclusion than that Sharia is really - really -  bad for non-Muslims.  The default attitude to non-Muslims is that they are second-class (at best), are to be dominated and discriminated against.  Supremacism is shot through the Sharia, like the blue in cheese.  The few positive provisions are limited and grudging.
The corpus of Islamic Sharia law, in this most authorititive form, is antithetical to all we hold dear in the west: equality before the law, tolerance for all religions, beliefs and leanings, tolerance of minorities, respect for women's rights, the freedom of conscience and of speech.
All these find their opposites in Sharia.  
If you can spend the time, and are so inclined, my summary of what Sharia means to non-Muslims, from the point of view of its most authoritative source, the Umdat al-Salik is below the fold.

Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

Yet another case of the bloggers getting it right and the mainstream media (MSM) getting it wrong.
From the beginning of the egregiously misnamed "Arab Spring", the MSM was off beam.  They'd hardly heard of the Muslim Brotherhood.  "Muslim who?"  Then it was "oh well, yes, the Muslim Brotherhood... but they won't get into power", then "Well, maybe they will, but they're secular now"...(*)
They were wrong on all counts, and the counter-jihad bloggosphere were right on all counts.  The likes of Spencer, Ibrahim, Pipes, Rubin, BCF and many others were clear at the beginning that the revolutions would lead to Islamists in power. And here they are.
Of course, at the time, when they pointed this out, these bloggers were reviled in the MSM as "cynical", or "racist anti-Arabs", or the evergreen "Islamophobes".  But the results are there: they got it right.  So who should you listen to now, the New York Times, or the bloggers?
Barry Rubin does a good job of summarising the issue, in "Egypt: A Muslim Brotherhood President Does Not Prove That We Are All 'Chimps'".
To be fair to the BBC World Service radio, which I get here in Hong Kong, they've now given some straight coverage of the Brotherhood. Yesterday they had on a guest, Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who pointed out that all Muslim Brothers are indoctrinated in a 5-step process on the ideology of the Brotherhood and the need for Sharia law to be implemented.  The new president, Muhammad Morsi, may be making moderate sounding statements about the protection of minority rights, the rights of women, the freedom to dress how one wants and so on.  But his true Brotherhood colours will come to the fore sooner or later. And the Army is no bulwark, for they are not interested in any philosophy other than the protection of their widespread commercial interests, and in political power to that end. They may well strike a deal with the Brotherhood and then all "moderate" bets are off.
Later: See Trager's excellent article on the MB and Muhammad Morsi, here.
*EG Thomas Friedman, NYT, 13 Feb '11: And, as we sit here today, the popular trend is not with the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, what makes the uprising here so impressive – and in that sense so dangerous to other autocracies in the region – is precisely the fact that it is not owned by, and was not inspired by, the Muslim Brotherhood. [source]
Nine months later, Friedman again (without mea culpa!): The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more fundamentalist Salafist Nour Party have garnered some 65 percent of the votes in the first round of Egypt’s free parliamentary elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak should hardly come as a surprise. [Huh?  As Martin Kramer says, "Unless you're Tom".....
Earlier: MSM gets it wrong too on "moderate" Indonesia. And is late to the party on Christian travails in Egypt.

More crazy moral equivalence - speared by Ibrahim

The peerless Raymond Ibrahim skewers the Texas Congressman Al Geeen who criticised the Homeland Security hearings on the radicalisation of Muslims by calling for hearings on "radicalisation" of White Christian Women....
Though his position may seem balanced, in fact, it reveals a dangerous mix of irrationality, moral relativism, and emotionalism—all disastrous traits in a U.S. Congressman. Consider some of Green's assertions:....   Read  the rest
[PS: I wonder what Aaron Sorkin would make on this, given his search for "the Truth" and belief that moral relativism is both rampant and dangerous.  Would he look at this case and consider Rep Green as dangerously deluded?  Given his Hollywood liberal inclinations, I doubt it somehow].

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: what a creep

I've long been fascinated by this fellow Al-Qaradawi.  Mainly because he has such influence in the Muslim world -- 60 million listed to his radio program, for heaven's sake -- and is seen by many in the west as somewhat of a "moderate".  And, he's the "spiritual head" of the Muslim Brotherhood, which now has a Muhammad installed as president of Egypt.
Sure there are the "controversies" about Al-Qaradawi, but heck, who in public life doesn't.
What gets me more is that he's really nothing at all moderate. Take the rant above about Jews.  Jews were "put in their place" by Hitler, but the job needed to be finished -- hopefully that would be done by Muslims.  Note how his audience cheers him on.
What a horrid man. And yet an acceptable, authoritative and respected face of Islam, who has won many awards.  If we non-Muslims say that Islam said what Qaradawi says it does, we're "Islamophobes".  If the good Sheik says it, he's lionized.

AA+ for Aaron

I saw Aaron Sorkin on Charlie Rose the other day.  He of "The West Wing" and "The Social Network" fame.  He was promoting his new HBO series, "The Newsroom".
I found him rather likeable. And one thing he said stuck in my mind: he said we're told from childhood that "there are two sides to every story".  That's not true, he said.  Sometimes there are five sides, sometimes only one.  And if there are two sides, it doesn't necessarily follow that they're both equally right (or wrong) and that the truth is somewhere in the middle.  
He talked of "neutral bias".  The need to always give "the other side" to the story, as if they are both equally valid.  Imagine if the Republicans voted uninimously that the Earth is Flat. The New York Times, in its obsession to be "fair" and "neutral", would carry the headline "Republicans and Democrats disagree on shape of the Earth".
Sometimes, there is just the truth. One and one is two, and if someone says it's nine, we must say they're wrong, or lying.
I like all that.  It's the opposite of the post-modern moral equivalence argument: that all views are equally valid, all cultures equally praiseworthy (or blameworthy), all religions the same, equally bad, or good.
It was refreshing to hear him talk like that and of the need to seek and say the truth.
But I wonder about the show.
There's a snip of it at the Daily Beast site, in which the main character, Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels says "it wasn't Muslims that attacked us on 9/11, it was psychopaths".
To be sure, Sorkin says that none of the characters is his sock puppet and he's not a ventriloquist, speaking his own views through the characters.  
But still I wonder this: will McAvoy have a revelation, will he see "The Truth", which is clearly that the 9/11 hijackers were most certainly not psychopaths, but motivated by clear and unequivocal doctrines and theology of Islam.  That these doctrines were expressed by al-Qaeda is irrelevant; what's relevant is whether Qaeda misread Islam, misinterpreted it or hijacked it in any way.  If you read Raymond Ibrahim's excellent "The al-Qaeda Reader", and you know your Koran and Hadith, you'll conclude that bin Laden and his mob have a very good grasp of Islam and quote it at length in justification for actions like 9/11 -- the need for Islam to dominate the world and to establish the caliphate throughout.
I somehow think that even given Sorkin's desire to seek the truth, this is one truth too far for him.
I guess I'll just have to watch it and see. 
Though so far the reviews have been lukewarm to stinging.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Divorce in Oz, Muslim Style

There was a show here in Hong Kong on Australia TV the other night, called "Divorce, Aussie Muslim Style", by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Oz's BBC).
It followed the experience of three or four Aussie Muslim women who were trying to get a divorce under the Sharia Courts in Australia (yes, there are such things...)
The tone was very neutral, letting the story tell the story, just following the women, as they went through the local Australian Sharia Courts and hearing from the women, their husbands and the imams at the ShaCourts.
I didn't see the end -- dozed off -- so I don't know if the producers came to any conclusions about these Aussie ShaCourts.  I would've expected them to say something along the lines of these being part of the wonderful mosaic of diversity in Australia, or some such; but to be fair to the ABC, I didn't see that in the show I watched, which was most of it.
So, what did it show of Sharia Courts in Australia?  About marriage and divorce, anyway?
The following:
  • Arranged marriages.
  • Dowries.
  • Polygamy.
  • Women have no right to divorce.  They have to get the husband's consent to do so.
  • Men have the right to divorce, not matter what, just by saying "I divorce you".
  • If the woman is to be granted a divorce by the husband, she must pay back the dowry, with interest;  or she must pay any (repeat, by the imams, any) amount requested by the husband.
  • The woman has no right to any assets of the marriage -- no matter what Australian law says about the split.
These women were not at all happy about the situations they found themselves in, very frustrated.  It seems that they had all had a marriage by Australian law, and then gone ahead and had a marriage Islam style, by Sharia law and that in all cases they had chosen to -- or had succumbed to peer pressure. In all cases they had managed to get a divorce under Australian law, but were seeking Islamic divorce so that the could remarry and get on with their lives.
One of the women, frustrated after another appeal to the imam of the Sharia court said "where's the human rights in this? Where's the women's rights?"   Indeed.  But she did not pursue that thought -- the obvious answer being that there aren't any women's rights, for it's Islamic Sharia law, which is anti-women (let's leave aside for the moment all the other things it's down on too: apostasy, homosexuality, non-Muslims, and so on).

I don't know if the producers made any comments at the end of the show.  For my part it was all pretty clear: Sharia law -- for Aussie Muslim women -- is a bummer.  These women said so themselves.

It adds nothing positive to Australian life. It only adds negatives.  It goes against all that Aussie feminist Sheilas have fought for for so many years: equality of treatments, respect, a fair go.

And I can't think of any other way in which Islam has added a positive to Australian life.  Not in architecture -- mosques are undistinguished, at best -- not in literature, not in the arts, not in comedy, not in advancing human rights.

This is yet one more clear case of how Islam adds nothing to society but only takes it backwards, and how the government allows and enables it to do so.  Because of the fear of Islam, for care and concern to show "respect" to the "Religion of Peace" these depradetions are allowed and allowed only for Islam.  I wouldn't much mind if this were confined to the Muslim community.  Yet poll after poll shows that Muslims in western countries want Sharia law to be enacted for the societies which host them.  And so slowly it is happening, with the connivance of the elites and the government.

It's a disgrace really.

RELATED: "Islam in the West": a collection of Polls of Muslim attitudes, Here.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

LEAP to better drug laws

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition does a wonderful job of bringing to public attention the dreadful outcomes of the so-called "War on Drugs" begun by Nixon in the 70s: crime, corruption, full jails, lives ruined to no good end.  The laws as they now stand are a threat to sound society.
I have just donated to their "3-for-1" campaign here.  Go ahead, it's easy on Paypal.

Friday, 15 June 2012

"Stay out of the Syrian morass"

Interesting comments from Daniel Pipes on the non-advisability of intervention in Syria....
Those calls to action fall into three main categories: a Sunni Muslim concern for co-religionists, a universal humanitarian concern to stop torture and murder, and a geopolitical worry about the impact of the ongoing conflict. The first two motives can be fairly easily dispatched. If Sunni governments – notably those of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar - choose to intervene on behalf of fellow Sunnis against Alawis, that is their prerogative but Western states have no dog in this fight.
Read more....
And his follow up, "Further thoughts..."

Monday, 11 June 2012

Reflecting on June 4th

I got back from a regatta in Koh Samui, Thailand (where we won our division...), in time for the annual vigil in Hong Kong to mark the events of June 4th 1989 in China: when the Chinese leadership, under Deng Xiaoping, decided they'd had enough of the demonstrations in Tian'anmen square, sent in the army and tanks, resulting in deaths of many, in numbers between hundreds to 2-3,000 (the exact figure never having been revealed, to my knowledge)
These demonstrations, which swelled to millions in Beijing, were all about students demanding a reassessment of the legacy of the late Hu Yaobang who had been purged just before his death.  They spread to the Beijing population more widely and called for an end to the ban on private newspapers and to press censorship; pressed state leaders and their family members to disclose their wealth to stem corruption (something that's come up again recently in the case of Bo Xilai's arrest); demanded greater funding for education and an end to restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing.
I was there in Beijing just a few days before June 4th: a consultant, then, to Australian business in China.
I arrived around 30th May, from London via Moscow.  I was in Moscow to pin down that stage of a documentary of a train trip from Beijing to Berlin, which eventually came out as a four-part doco called "The Red Express".  That was all done with great ease, to my surprise.  I met a Pavel from one of the media departments of the fag-end Soviet Union, which was to crumble just two years later.  Pavel presented me with a list of prices for their services, from hiring helicopters, to getting filming permission on board the trains.  My first time in the Soviet Union, and it all seemed almost too easy. I signed up, on behalf our our Australian client, and headed to Beijing.
There I met up with our Chinese partner in "The Red Express", the Great Wall Publishing House, with whom we'd done a previous book and were finishing a new project.  The book, "China, the Long March", was a pretty coffee-table book on Mao's famous "walk" from South China to Yen'an in 1929.  We were also in the final stages of doing another documentary with them -- "The Great Wall of Iron", an exclusive inside look at the Chinese military, the PLA.  So you'd think having done these two with them, doing another would be routine; but no.  They were finicky and pernickety, quite a contrast with Russia, and I didn't get the full business done.
So I wander down to Tian'anmen Square to check out the demonstrators.  Tens of thousands filled the square, many living there in tents. I spoke to many.  The moods were like today's "Occupy" movements... open, friendly, hopeful.  The few authorities around, police and military were relaxed and seemed on side with the demonstrators.  There was no hint of the carnage that was to take place just a few days later.
So I headed back to Australia, to report to our clients on progress in our two projects.
I remember so clearly waking on the morning of June 4th 1989, and seeing the non-stop coverage of the events in Beijing, mainly in the Square, but also in surrounding streets.  Tanks in the square, the tattered remains of tents.  Reports of thousands having been killed, including run over by tanks, pictures of crushed bicycles, wounded being rushed to hospitals.  Soldiers, too, had been killed, some, grotesquely, hung from a bridge at Dong Dan.  But the army was in power, the demonstrations crushed.
I was due back in Beijing just a few days later to try to finalise the "Red Express" and what to do now with the in-the-can footage of "The Great Wall of Iron".  What to do with an inside look at the armed forces that were now crushing students under tanks?
I arrived in an eerily empty Beijing, few cars on the streets, tanks still at main intersections.
I stayed at the "Great Wall Sheraton" hotel, not quite in the centre of town.  It had been spared damage, but all along Chang'an main street, building were shot up, including, shockingly, the major 5-star hotel and convention centre, the World Trade Centre, its windows shattered.
The Chinese I met were in shock, but with dry, sardonic humour, the greeting was no longer "Ni Hao", but "You're still alive, then?" (你还活着呐?).
Everyone, but everyone, knew what had happened and was horrified.
So here's the surprise: many people in China today have no idea of what happened on June 4th.  So those who might think that government censorship is futile are wrong in this case.  The forgetting, or not knowing, of June 4th has been very successful for the regime in Beijing.
Back to the annual June 4th vigils in Hong Kong, two observations:
One: this year there were far more at the vigil in Victoria Park than in previous years; over 100,000 according the organisers.  This pleasantly surprised me, as I'd thought perhaps the innate pragmatism -- Hong Kong as a money-making place -- would mean gradual diminishing of the memory of an event that happened 23 years ago, and in another place.  The numbers were made up, increasingly, by young people, many not even born when it happened. So they do have a social conscience, and it hews to accountability, to openness, to making a statement to Beijing: the dreams and hopes of those students in Beijing -- an end to censorship and corruption -- are alive in their minds.
Second: increasing numbers of mainland Chinese are coming to Hong Kong to take part in the vigil, to find out what it was all about, to express their own hopes for a better, more accountable, less corrupt government.
These are good trends.  June 4th will not be forgotten. And if the leadership in Beijing can ever bring themselves to "reassess" those events of 23 years ago -- and there are hints they're considering it -- it will be better for the people of China and Hong Kong.