China ready in red for Olympic torch

Mary-Anne Toy, China Correspondent
May 2, 2008

THERE is little Beijing fears more than a "colour revolution" - the overthrow of authoritarian former Soviet states such as Georgia and Ukraine by people-power opposition movements symbolised by the wearing of colours such as rose or orange.

So expect Hong Kong, the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, to be drenched in celebratory red tomorrow when the Olympic torch undertakes its first leg on Chinese soil after its protest-tarnished international journey.

A who's who of Hong Kong's elite, from business, entertainment and sport, this week urged residents to wear red to support the Olympics - and to eclipse human rights activists who have begun adopting the colour orange.

The torch arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday amid a growing diplomatic furore after at least seven Western activists, including Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, were refused entry.

The British consulate has demanded a meeting with the Government over why two of its citizens, including Matt Whitticase, of the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, whose father lives here, was denied entry on Tuesday.

However, although Hollywood actress Mia Farrow was briefly questioned at Hong Kong's airport yesterday, officials allowed her to enter the Chinese territory to give a speech criticising China's relations with Sudan.

On Wednesday democracy activists painted Galschiot's Pillar of Shame sculpture, a memorial to the June 4 Tiananmen Square incident of1989, orange.

"There is a lot of red against orange and we will be outnumbered," Lee Cheuk-yan told The Herald yesterday (ok thurs). Mr Lee, vice-president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said his group decided against a "mass mobilisation" because public opinion was against them.

"The public in a way have been brainwashed that the Olympics should be politically neutral and with that in mind we do not really want to go much against the current tide of opinion in Hong Kong ... but we still need to stand up and make our point clear that we want human rights improvements in China."

The group is planning a small demonstration near the start of today's relay (12.30pm AEST) and will put most of its energy into the annual candle-light vigil to mark the June 4 anniversary which usually attracts hundreds of thousands.

The Committee for Welcoming the Torch, backed by the Hong Kong government, appealed this week for school principals and employers to allow students and employees to dress in red or wear a red sticker, 2 million of which will be handed out. Committee spokesman Jack So Chak-kwong said the group was "only concerned about sports, peace and harmony. We don't want to talk about politics".

The torch will go to Macau, another special administrative region of China like Hong Kong, before the rest of its domestic domestic route that will lead it back to Beijing on August 8 for the opening ceremony. A sister flame is at the foot of Mount Everest waiting for the weather to improve so Chinese climbers can attempt to take the torch to the top of the world's highest peak.

* A Human Rights Watch report released yesterday said Chinese lawyers who took politically sensitive or potentially embarrassing to the government cases faced severe abuses ranging from harassment to disbarment and physical assaults. Last month the Chinese Justice Ministry warned lawyers who had publicly offered to defend Tibetan protesters that they would jeopardize their practicising licenses and could face disciplinary action if they took on these "sensitive cases".