World

Trump’s visit to Britain. Pacific stopover for Morrison. Bans on religious head coverings in Europe. The 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Remembering the Tiananmen massacre

A candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
Credit: Chan Long Hei / SOPA Images / Sipa USA

GREAT POWER RIVALRY

Britain: Last year, Donald Trump made a low-key trip to Britain to meet with the British prime minister, Theresa May, amid fears of mass protests.

This week, Trump finally returned for his state visit, including an 82-gun salute and a royal banquet. He revelled in the pomp and showed deference to the Queen, who pointedly reminded him that their two nations had worked together after World War II to build international institutions to “safeguard a hard-won peace”.

But the United States president prefers strident assertions of nationalism and distrusts institutions such as the United Nations. He was an outspoken supporter of Britain’s move to leave the European Union and has forged close bonds with Brexiters such as far-right leader Nigel Farage and Conservative MP Boris Johnson.

During his visit, Trump met with Farage and said Johnson would do a “good job” as a replacement for May, who has announced her resignation. Johnson, with an eye on the Conservative leadership contest, declined to meet Trump. And Trump refused to meet Jeremy Corbyn, describing the Labour leader as a “negative force”.

It was a chaotic visit, which underscored Britain’s deep political divisions and indecision.

Trump and the hardliners hope Brexit will lead to closer ties between Washington and London and a trade deal between the two countries. But critics say extra trade with the US will not replace the benefits of EU membership and could undermine Britain’s healthcare system or lead to imports of substandard US-made food.

According to a recent YouGov poll, only 21 per cent of Britons have a positive view of Trump. At the rain-soaked protests in London – dismissed by Trump as “fake news” – demonstrators denounced the US president as a racist and a climate sceptic. One placard read: “Brexit = Trump”. Trump insists he can strike a “phenomenal” deal with Britain, which must first decide on a new prime minister and then navigate the country’s departure from the EU.

AUSTRALIA’S BACKYARD

Solomon Islands: For his first overseas visit since the election, Scott Morrison went to the Solomon Islands, which has not received an Australian prime minister in 11 years. The visit follows Morrison’s trip to Vanuatu and Fiji in January, which marked the first time an Australian leader had travelled to either country outside of an international summit.

This Pacific “step-up”, as Morrison calls it, has also involved a significant aid boost to Australia’s island neighbours, despite cuts to other regions.

“We will always be here, as family,” Morrison told reporters in Honiara on Monday.

This Pacific pivot actually began under Malcolm Turnbull, prompted by sudden concerns about the rising influence of China in Australia’s immediate neighbourhood. China’s aid and loans in the region are growing, and it has developed close diplomatic and trade ties with several island states. In the Solomon Islands, the recently elected prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has signalled he may switch the country’s diplomatic stance and recognise China rather than Taiwan. China has been gradually prising countries away from Taiwan, which now has fewer than 20 global allies.

Australia is deeply worried about China gaining a military foothold in Australia’s northern approaches. Despite Morrison’s insistence that the step-up is purely about boosting neighbourly ties, Morrison’s new minister to oversee the Pacific, Alex Hawke, is also – tellingly – the assistant defence minister.

Morrison’s visit to the Solomon Islands was apparently well received, receiving blanket coverage in the local Solomon Star newspaper.

However, the immediate impediment to Canberra’s Pacific ties is not the growing role of China but a failure to combat the threat that most worries Australia’s low-lying neighbours – climate change. The Solomon Islands is an archipelago made up of hundreds of sprawling islands, including at least five that have been lost to the rising seas.

Among the well-wishers greeting Morrison in Honiara, a protester held a sign saying: “Stop Adani”.

DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT

Austria: Two years ago, Austrian MPs introduced a ban on full-face coverings to encourage “integration”. The move was aimed at orthodox Muslim women but largely resulted in police issuing warnings to people wearing ski masks, animal costumes and scarves.

Last month, Austria’s ruling right-wing coalition went further and introduced a law to ban “ideologically or religiously influenced” head coverings for students at primary schools. The law did not mention the Islamic headscarf, but the government admitted this was the target, noting that Sikh and Jewish head coverings would be allowed, as would bandages and headwear to protect against the snow.

Austria’s move follows similar bans across Europe, including those by Denmark, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that countries can introduce such bans to support the principle of “living together”.

But a recent study by two Stanford researchers found that such bans have not boosted solidarity and have instead limited the integration of Muslim women. The study examined France’s ban in 2004 on religious symbols at schools, comparing groups of Muslim women who had studied before and after the ban came into effect. It found those who studied after the ban started were less likely to be employed and more likely to have more children and to live with their parents. Muslim students affected by the ban were more likely to drop out of high school or took longer to complete their studies. They were more likely to have reported experiencing racism and held a lower regard for French schools.

The study found that the bans led to increased religiosity and alienation from French society.

“To what extent policies like the headscarf ban affect the incentives of second-generation immigrants to acculturate their children, and the implications this may have for minority identity … remain unanswered,” it concluded. “We leave such questions to future research.”

SPOTLIGHT: AFTER TIANANMEN

China: The Chinese Communist Party’s censorship of the Tiananmen Square massacre is largely conducted by automated censors that look for dates, images or names that might suggest discussion about an event officials refer to as “political turmoil”. To try to avoid detection, internet users have deployed codes such as “May 35” or “8964” or “when spring becomes summer”, as the massacre occurred on June 4, 1989.

For 30 years, the party has tried to erase the memory of the massacre, in which tanks and bullets were used to quell student-led democracy protests at Tiananmen Square and across the country. There is no official death toll, though it is believed several hundred or a few thousand people were killed. The erasure appears to have succeeded. Several years ago, journalist Louisa Lim asked 100 students at four universities in Beijing whether they could identify the famous image of the “tank man”, the protester who stood alone to block a column of tanks. Only 15 knew of the photograph.

Chinese officials typically avoid discussing the crackdown, though each anniversary is marked by a sudden increase in censorship and detention of activists. However, China’s defence minister, Wei Fenghe, last weekend provided a rare public comment. Wei was appearing at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a yearly defence summit in Singapore, when an audience member asked him about the crackdown’s 30th anniversary. “[It] was the correct policy,” he said. “Due to this, China has enjoyed stability … The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence.”

Asked about Wei’s comments, Scott Morrison this week avoided discussing the massacre. Instead, he referred to the comments of the foreign minister, Marise Payne, who issued a cautious 47-word statement saying Canberra “remembers” the Tiananmen Square victims and was “concerned” about Beijing’s “continuing constraints on freedom”. In 1989, the crackdown brought Bob Hawke to tears. In the years that followed, Australia imposed sanctions on China, led human rights delegations and, in 1997, began a regular human rights dialogue. A decade ago, China became Australia’s largest trade partner. The last human rights dialogue was in 2014, and there are no plans for any more.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 8, 2019 as "Remembering the Tiananmen massacre". Subscribe here.

Jonathan Pearlman
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.