"The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room - especially if there is no cat." Confucius
This year is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing on June 4 1989. Thousands of students were killed in the Square in a crackdown by the Chinese army. Their crime was to call for democracy in China.
It is futile to hope that there will be any official commemorations in New Zealand of the massacre. The pressure of the Chinese government's displeasure would be too great. The response will be to ignore the anniversary, or to suggest that we have all moved on – or even to deny it ever happened.
Nevertheless, the memorial stone on the grounds of St Andrews Presbyterian Church on Symonds St, Auckland, remains a silent witness to the dead of Tiananmen. It was placed there in 1989 at the request of students from China who were studying at the University here at that time. Many had friends among those who died in Tiananmen Square. The Church, to its credit, granted their request.
The stone has also become a silent protest against futility. It, and the students in Beijing, continue to inspire hope of change. Ma Jian, a Chinese dissident writer who took part in the Tiananmen protests, wrote: "my hope is that the Chinese government will come to realise that it is futile to repress free speech, and that contrary to what they believe a regime's strength rests not in its suppression of a plurality of opinions and ideas, but in its capacity and willingness to encourage them".
However, futility, like limpets on a rock, clings on and on. Today it is futile to hope that the People's Republic of China (PRC) will allow Taiwan, the island across the strait, to be accepted as a full member of the international community. Taiwan is excluded from the United Nations and from a host of other international organisations. The PRC claims the island as its own, as its "sacred and inalienable" territory, which is interesting language coming from an avowedly atheist country.
But Taiwan has never actually been part of the PRC. Japan gained the island from China (that is, the Qing Dynasty) in 1895. After Japan was defeated in 1945, there was no agreement as to what was supposed to happen to the island, which has been self-governing ever since.
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Over 30 years ago, when I first went to Taiwan, the island was ruled under the dictatorship of the KMT or Chinese Nationalists. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan was under huge political pressure to change its languages of worship from the Taiwanese vernacular and the various indigenous languages of Taiwan to Mandarin, the "national language" of China, of which Taiwan was deemed to be part.
And in 2016 (yes, the year of Brexit and the election of President Trump) Taiwan held free, open and peaceful, democratic elections. The KMT were voted out. The new President of Taiwan, Tsai Ying-wen, is a graduate of the London School of Economics, one the first women in Asia elected to such a high office and is proud of her part indigenous Taiwanese heritage.
Taiwan is also important to New Zealand. It is the ancestral homeland from which our Māori people came. It is our eighth largest (and one might add, a very reliable) trading partner. Many Taiwanese have made New Zealand their home. In short, we owe them a break.
The German Minister of Foreign Affairs recently suggested that the Chinese government's refusal to renounce the use of force is unacceptable. Cross-strait tensions should be resolved, he said, by peaceful means and by mutual agreement. He got China's standard response, that he should not interfere in "China's internal affairs".
But futility can crack, especially in great countries like China. In the 1970s, Deng Xiaoping changed China. He did so by saying, "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice." China can do it again. They could do the world a favour and lighten up. What the world needs now is for Taiwan and China to catch a vision of doing new things together in new ways.
* Rev Dr Stuart Vogel works with the Auckland Chinese Presbyterian Church. Last year, he visited the DPRK to see a church-run bakery producing bread for kindergartens and old-age homes