Simon O’Connor showing up at the candlelight vigil “means a lot”

By Portia Mao

There is something unique about the annual Tiananmen Memorial at St Andrews church this year. National MP Simon O’Connor attended the commemoration and made a speech, which is surely a huge encouragement for the organizers and Chinese-Kiwis pursuing democracy.

Simon O’Connor  (Photo/ Portia Mao)

According to Wei-Jian Chen, who organized the annual vigils for victims of Beijing’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters,  Simon O’Connor was the first MP to show up at the candlelight vigil in the last 20 years.  Mr. Chen, a long-term democracy advocate, said New Zealand MPs from big parties and small parties attended the annual memorial event in the early years since the June 4th Memorial Boulder was created outside St Andrews Presbyterian Church in 1989. But they didn’t turn up later on for fearing offending the Chinese government. 

June 5 evening (Photo / Portia Mao)

In his speech at the Tiananman memorial, Simon O’Connor gave his strong personal support to Chinese New Zealanders who stand up for freedom and democracy.

He admitted that “in the last few years, those who want to stand up for freedom and democracy, for the true values of China and New Zealand found it very difficult.

“ So I want to be here as one member of the parliament to say I support you.”

Simon  O’Connor said: “I stand beside you, I condemn CCP,  condemn what they have done in the past, I condemn what they do today, ”he said.

Simon  O’Connor also said: “We do remember the massacre in Tiananmen Square. By ‘we’, not just New Zealand Chinese community, but all new Zealanders.”

Being an associate spokesperson on foreign affairs,  Simon  O’Connor acknowledges two Chinese men – Weiguo Xi and Lengcheng Wang “who gave their lives for the community in a tragic car accident when they tried to come to the parliament to share their voice.”

 “Their sacrifice and the words they wanted to share have not been forgotten in the parliament, ”he said.

Simon  O’Connor also praised Mr. Freeman Yu , the survivor of the car accident who “continuously to speak strongly and bravely.”

 Tiananmen memorial event was held on June 5 instead of June 4 this year. Probably the organizers thought the weekend would be more convenient for people to come. However, people still commemorate the victims who died in Tiananmen Square in front of the Memorial Boulder on June 4 as they use to do. 

Jack Li, a 23-year-old young man from Hong Kong was one of them. He said he knew the official Memorial Day was moved to the next day, but he still felt the need to come on June 4.  Li said he had been doing this since he came to New Zealand 3 years ago. 

Apart from Li, there were also student from Taiwan, people from mainland China and there was even a Kiwi priest who chaired the memorial under the others’ encouragement.    

June 4 evening  (Photo/Portia Mao )

For Chinese people who didn’t turn up for candlelight vigil, it did not mean they would not remember. Some just had a different way to commemorate the 32 anniversary of Tianman crackdown. A Chinese man shared a photo of a bottle of wine he and his friends were drinking on the evening of June 4 in a social media group. The wine was made in Australia in 2019 by Australia and New Zealand Chinese Committee to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Tiananman Massacre and also to “acknowledges the shelter and liberty provided by Australia and other nations of the free world to those in political exile.” 

Photo in Chinese social media

Another Chinese man who has been living in New Zealand for more than 20 years wrote in social media that he “would never hesitate to fight for New Zealand if its freedom and democracy were under threat” even though he was in his 50s.  

Simon  O’Connor said: “New Zealand must continue as a country together with you to condemn those actions to celebrate freedom and celebrate democracy.”

He ended up his speech with words that touched many Chinese attendees’ hearts: “Thank you for making New Zealand your home. Thank you for making New Zealand better.” 

Simon  O’Connor is a member of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee in the parliament.  He is also a member of IPAC ( Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China), which  is an international cross-party group of legislators” working towards reform on how democratic countries approach China.”

Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University, a well-known Chinese expert, said on her Twitter that Simon showing up at the memorial “means a lot “.

A Chinese woman asked in Twitter why the Chinese MP didn’t turn up.

That might be a question many people would like to ask.