Opinion | Candle lighting: Western hypocrisy diminishes participants
By Grenville Cross
On June 4, the United States Consulate General in Hong Kong, headed by Michael Hanscom Smith, displayed candles to recall the social disturbances in Beijing in 1989.
This was the second year running it had done this, with Smith having been egged on by his Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. The previous day, Blinken had declared that the US would continue to speak out about China's "atrocities and human rights abuses".
Not to be outdone, the Office of the European Union in Hong Kong, headed by Thomas Gnocchi, also lit its candles. This was after the EU Spokeswoman on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Nabila Massarli, had sought to stir the pot by announcing that the bloc "always stands in solidarity with those who peacefully defend freedom and human rights".
Her message was not only retweeted by Gnocchi, but also by the Dutch, Finnish and French consuls, while the Australian, Canadian and British consuls all chimed in with background music of their own.
Although Beijing had indicated the sensitivity of the matter, Smith and Gnocchi, clearly on instructions, decided, ignoring diplomatic niceties, to irritate their hosts.
Once they knew the cameras were trained on their consulates, they sought, by selective posturing, to inflame tensions. If, however, they were really interested in commemorating past events, they had only to look into their own backyards, particularly that of the US.
On March 16, 1968, for example, the US Army slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese women, children and elderly men, in what is now known as the "My Lai Massacre", and of which Blinken, Smith and Massarli have presumably heard. Although most of the victims were machine-gunned to death, others were bombed, with females being raped and mutilated before being killed.
According to Private First Class Michael Bernhardt, an eyewitness, he saw troops "gathering people in groups and shooting them", with men and women being killed indiscriminately. After a helicopter pilot, Hugh Thomson, intervened to stop the massacre, he was, as he later told "60 Minutes", ostracized by his fellows and even received death threats when he returned home.
Although My Lai has been described as "the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War", it attracted no candles on March 16 from Blinken. Smith or Gnocchi, let alone any words of remembrance from Massarli.
It also went unremarked by the Dutch, Finnish and French embassies in both the US and Vietnam, who were content for the massacre's 54th anniversary to be disregarded, presumably so as not to upset the US.
But, however much Blinken and Smith may want to forget their country's gristly past, this can be no excuse for the EU to play along, particularly as it professes so much concern for human rights.
Although the charitably-minded might argue, however implausibly, that Blinken and Smith had simply forgotten what happened in My Lai on March 16, this theory, unfortunately, cannot hold water.
Rather, they seem to be struck by selective amnesia whenever the anniversaries of events from their past of which they are not proud come around. By contrast, they have perfect recall when it comes to China, which will smack to many of their usual double-standards.
It may, however, not be too late for them to put matters right. On October 24, 2022, Blinken and Smith will have another opportunity to vindicate themselves, and they should get their candles ready.
This date will mark the 151st anniversary of the "Chinese massacre", which occurred in Los Angeles, California, USA, in 1871. Racist mobs attacked the city's Chinese immigrants, of whom there were only 172 at the time, killing 19, with the authorities standing by.
Massarli and Gnocchi will, hopefully, be reminding Blinken and Smith of this horrific event, as well as asking the EU's Los Angeles office to light 19 candles on October 24 to remember the 19 murdered Chinese, and then to circulate the images online.
If, however, Massarli and Gnocchi are afraid of tangling with the US, it will fall to Finland, France and the Netherlands, along with Australia, Britain and Canada, to refresh Blinken's memory of horrors past.
Unless, of course, they are party to US hypocrisy, they can, for example, remind him of July 26, 1950, the day 400 South Korean civilians were killed by US forces from the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the so-called "No Gun Ri massacre".
After the US high command had delivered a "stop refugee order", many refugees were shot while on or under a stone bridge that ran through the town, while others, according to the BBC, were bombed and machine gunned by US planes.
As one eyewitness, Joe Jackman, later recalled, "there was a lieutenant screaming like a madman, fire on everything, kill 'em all", after which the soldiers "shot 'em all". Even if all those countries are unwilling to remind Blinken of this, they can at least ensure that candles are lit at their respective embassies in Washington DC and Seoul.
Nobody, however, should hold their breath. The chances of Blinken and Smith getting their candles out to memorialize their country's massacres at My Lai, Los Angeles and No Gun Ri are less than zero.
So also is the likelihood of Massarli and the EU member states recalling the Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean victims, for reasons that are not hard to fathom. Their only interest lies in trying to embarrass China, nothing more and nothing less, and they should now be left to wallow in their collective hypocrisy.
(Source: China Daily)
The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.