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How China’s Hawks Still Exploit the 1989 Tiananmen Protests

Dr. Michael Pillsbury

By Michael Pillsbury (original source Newsweek)

“In his Friday address on Hong Kong, President Donald Trump mused that we once hoped that “Hong Kong would be a glimpse of China’s future.” What he meant was that, for years, the consensus was that the Chinese government would evolve to resemble Hong Kong’s: democratic, protective of civil liberties, with a free market. Hong Kong was protected by a 1984 treaty between China and Britain, valid until 2047, by which time China would be just like Hong Kong. Trump accused China of violating this treaty, while China now even denies the treaty’s validity.

On the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, it is worth taking a closer look at how China’s hardliners exploited that event to oust reformers who had been sympathetic to the demonstrators. How did these hawks use Tiananmen to transform China’s relations with America by blaming Washington, rewriting history and demonizing political opposition?

In 1989, the American foreign policy establishment agreed China was on the inevitable path to reform. It was a surprise, then, when 50,000 students marched in a Beijing memorial service for a former Communist Party head, who had been deposed by then-“paramount leader” Deng Xiaoping. For seven weeks, the students were joined in Tiananmen Square by approximately a million protestors demanding free speech, a free press and government accountability. They held copies of the Declaration of Independence and built a “Goddess of Democracy.” In the preceding few years, a few of China’s reform-minded leaders had begun to consider moving toward democracy, while hardliners organized to block them.”

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