It is 20 years to the day that the student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square were put down with brutal force by the Chinese Government.

This calculated act of state-sponsored violence was the most audacious expression of the Chinese dictatorship’s disregard for human rights. In full view of the world, with the above video still standing as a defining moment in history, China cemented its standing as a rogue state.

The face of modern Australia was also changed by Tiananmen. Our then prime minister Bob Hawke famously broke down on television, announcing that all 20,000 Chinese students then resident in our country could stay permanently. Today, Bob Hawke is a lobbyist with an office in Shanghai, and has spent much of the past week ducking requests for interviews.

The ABC has contacted Mr Hawke on several occasions this past week requesting an interview for his reflections on the legacy of Tiananmen two decades on.

Mr Hawke has said nothing.

It’s a tremendous pity, because he would bring much to the debate. He could probably argue - as others have - that the China of 2009 is much different from the China of 1989, that people now have greater economic freedoms and are more affluent, even though the country remains a one-party state.

Instead, he’s opting out of the discussion, fearful that he’ll have to field impertienent questions about human rights, which would not sit well with his undoubtedly lucrative commercial work on behalf of Chinese companies and Australian companies doing business with China.

The Australian’s China correspondent Michael Sainsbury reported on April 1 that Mr Hawke, whose consulting group Robert JL Hawke and Associates has an office in Shanghai, was now visiting China “five or six times a year”  and lobbying for everything from the expansion of Chinese bank operations in Australia, to the Chinese government-owned shipping company COSCO.

Most Australians are mature enough to recognise that doing business with China is pivotal to our own economic future; to this end, Hawke’s work in China is in our national interest, whatever the private commercial benefits to him might be.

But it’s galling to see the man who once sobbed for China’s dead, and extended a fraternal arm to 20,000 frightened young people, making himself complicit through his silence in China’s attempt to airbrush the events of June 4, 1989, from the collective memory.

China has this week disabled its twitter feed and scrambled websites to shut down any domestic discussion of the Tiananmen atrocity.There has been no discussion of Tiananmen in the Chinese media.

It’s a shame that as great an Australian as Bob Hawke has played his own role in securing that silence.

When he spoke to The Australian, back in March, all Mr Hawke was quoted as saying on human rights was that present-day China was markedly different from when he made his first visit in 1978.

“It is an immesaurably much more different society, much more liberal, people have more freedom…obviously there are things that need to be improved but I think it is inevitable that the regime’s move to freer society will continue in the years ahead.”
But by not speaking this past week, Mr Hawke has helped China as it tries to ensure that the Tiananmen Square massacre is not treated as an anniversary at all.

Most commented


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    • The Cabbie says:

      12:18pm | 04/06/09

      Yes, let us do business with the Chinese and develop a good trade relationship. But please, do not allow them access or influence into any of our power bases or structures of government.
      The total silence over Tiananmen square has proven that their society and culture has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to democratic principles.

    • Robert Smissen says:

      05:45pm | 04/06/09

      Whatever you are told doesn’t count, when in reality, it’s about the MONEY! ! !

    • Jono says:

      07:58pm | 04/06/09

      Bob is probably in fear of being arrested by Chinese authorities if he speaks honestly about the matter to the media. He obviously feels very passionate about the matter, but has his best interests to adhere to. I hope he soon can come forward and shed some more light on the issue.

    • Lived There For Years says:

      11:08pm | 04/06/09

      That Chinese people have more freedom is arguable given that the Party has deliberately blocked information on the massacre for two decades, dissidents are reportedly removed against their will, widespread blocking of internet information occurs and the subject, when it is raised by the Chinese in China, is done so in whispered voices and with indirect allusions.

      Prior to the massacre it was at least possible for the people to demonstrate and clearly, they no longer have that ‘freedom’.

      The Chinese have been opiated by the ‘glorious’ rush towards personal wealth, understanding that much more is tolerated in the unethical and often criminal acquisition of personal wealth than would ever be tolerated if democracy was asked for. Look at Hong Kong’s punishment; they stood firm in their demands for freedom and saw the wealth of their stock market slide into the control of Shanghai.

    • Viney says:

      11:22am | 14/06/11

      Now we know who the sesnbile one is here. Great post!


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