Another Tiananmen? Alarming echoes of 1989 in Hong Kong protests


An estimated 1.7 million people took part in a peaceful pro-democracy protest (NYT/CFR) in the city center yesterday, the second-largest demonstration since the protest movement began more than two months ago.

Beijing’s patience over Hong Kong appears to be waning, Council on Foreign Relations analyst Jerome A. Cohen writes.

In the spring of 1989, I reported in Tiananmen Square for The New York Review of Books. For anyone who was there, Tiananmen now casts a long shadow across the demonstrations in Hong Kong, notes , Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society.

The Tiananmen Square demonstrations taught that powerful movements of dissent against the Chinese Communist Party are almost always destined to end in confrontation. Why? he asks in Foreign Affairs:

Because such challenges are intolerable to a Leninist one-party system that allows no notion of a dissent and whose leaders are perennially worried about displaying weakness. It was just such concerns that deprived Deng of the flexibility he needed—and that many other high officials wanted to exercise—to avoid the violent and humiliating finale that befell China in 1989. With the local government now seemingly paralyzed, unless the demonstrations somehow magically subside very soon on their own, there will come a time when someone somewhere will have to do something in Hong Kong.

China is, of course, a very different place today, and its leaders are painfully aware of the global costs of a Tiananmen-style military crackdown in Hong Kong, adds Schell, a co-author of Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century. But given the absence of evident alternative approaches to the escalating confrontation, it is not easy to imagine how else it will end.

Threats to rule of law and civil society in Hong Kong were raised at a recent forum at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Amid escalating protests in Hong Kong and as Beijing fans the mainland Chinese nationalist sentiment against the Hong Kong democracy movement, a young Hong Kong protester has written and published an open letter to mainland compatriots, Citizen Power Initiatives for China reports.


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