Am I wrong to fear another Tiananmen?

I can't look at Hong Kong without thinking about how far the Chinese Communist Party will go – and how little we'll do to stop them

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

For Beijing, the tens of thousands of protestors choking the centre of Hong Kong are such a dangerous outrage that mainland media cannot report on them. The real outrage is this: China agreed to hold free elections in 2017, but now a Beijing-appointed committee will determine whether candidates for chief executive can be relied on to toe Beijing’s line.

On 6 September, a Chinese embassy official wrote to the Times that in 2017 there would be a one-man one-vote election in Hong Kong. He omitted to mention that Beijing has selected the committee that will approve the candidates. On 15 September, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming wrote to the Daily Telegraph attacking Lord Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, for criticising Beijing’s arrangements for the election and for claiming that those arrangements are a denial of democracy.

It is not unusual for Beijing to declare that black is white. What is scandalous is that the Foreign Office immediately ‘welcomed’ Beijing’s ‘confirmation’ of election ‘through universal suffrage’. Whoever wrote that in Whitehall knew it to be false.

The People's Liberation Army  (PLA) tanks guard a
Chinese troops forcibly marched on Tiananmen Square to end a weeks-long occupation by student protestors, 1989 Photo: Getty

In one sense it is obvious why Beijing has laid down this gauntlet. It is true that Hong Kong, semi-autonomous since 1997, enjoys an essentially free press and freedom of speech, nor are there strictures on its annual candlelight vigils attended by huge crowds commemorating the Tiananmen killings in June 1989. But since 1997, its Chief Executives have been selected by Beijing. What Hong Kong people had been waiting for, in their orderly way, was the day in 2017 when that top job would be theirs to vote for. Now angry, they are demanding the resignation of the current Chief Executive, C.Y. Leung.

But not far beneath the surface of distortion is something far more sinister: Beijing’s fear of anything resembling democracy. This is why the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year jail sentence. On 8 December 2008, Liu was arrested for helping to publish a manifesto calling for democracy. He was soon charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Democracy would mean the end of the Chinese Communist Party’s authority in China proper, and there would be a similar, if smaller, blow if Hong Kongers could freely elect their next Chief Executive.

An armoured personnel carrier is in flames as stud
Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown Photo: Getty

I don’t think I am being melodramatic when I fear a reprise of Tiananmen in 1989.Then, too, I saw hundreds of thousands of mostly young students who, in mid-April, began calling for an end to official corruption and for a free press. But hardline statements by Senior Leader Deng Xiaoping condemning the demonstrations as of course subversive led to loud shouts for him to leave the stage and, soon, for democracy. Within a few days of a model of the Statue of Liberty being erected in the square, on the night of 3/4 June, the army and police began killing unarmed young people and their worker allies, and clearing the square.

In Hong Kong this week, armoured personnel carriers have been spotted not far from the city centre. Can Beijing be stupid enough to use them? Or, should I say, brutal enough? Its poodles in the city are demanding that foreign forces stop causing ‘a mess’.

But there are no foreign forces. Nor, I fear, will there be any substantial foreign outcries if the People’s Liberation Army’s 8,000-strong garrison comes out of its barracks. As an American I remember with shame the first President Bush sending his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to Beijing in December 1989 to tell Deng that the US president was ‘your friend for ever’.

Will David Cameron now speak out to remind Beijing of its legal obligations? He says only ‘I feel for the people of Hong Kong’ and hopes the ‘situation can be resolved’. The Prime Minister has already agreed not to see the Dalai Lama in exchange for a cap-in-hand trip to Beijing. Will his chief of staff, Edward Llewellyn, at Chris Patten’s side during the last governor’s careful steps towards limited democracy in the ex-colony, tell Mr Cameron what Britain’s obligations are, still now, after 1997? No chance.

It would seem not merely intolerable for Beijing to repeat Tiananmen; it would seem impossible. But President Xi Jinping, a great admirer of Mao, will not allow democracy in Hong Kong. When it is cornered the Chinese Communist Party always reaches for prison sentences. When those don’t work, there is violence, not tear gas, but real violence.

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  • Rik

    No your not,pity the poor martyrs to come,the old guard in Beijing cannot allow democracy to pollute China or it is the end for them.As always China will ignore {weak} world opinion and stamp out dissent.

  • beenzrgud

    In 1989 I don’t think the Chinese people really thought their own army would turn on them. Now they know better, and so may be able to “dodge the bullet” so to speak.
    Whilst the Chinese government explain their actions in terms of political ideology it is strange that many of them are now billionaires. I really don’t see much difference between them and some African dictator who maintains power at all costs, primarily for the benefit of his own bank account. I suppose in those terms we can predict how far they are willing to go in order to protect their own interests. It could get very messy indeed.

  • Terry Field

    China could choose to ship all its goods through Shanghai and leave HK to wither on the vine. Expensive for the economy, but for a communist hellish State, why care about the cost – in any sense.

  • Diggery Whiggery

    It goes deeper than that. China is not a country but an Han Chinese empire. To allow democracy would be to accept the destruction of the CCP and of China too. China has only ever existed as a centralized authoritarian state (except for a very short period) and unless she goes back to the feudal system, democracy (with a demos) will carve her up.

    In much the same way as the EU has to limit democracy to hold together, so too does the CCP and China. The question the Chinese people have to ask is whether it’s more in their interests to stick together in a block without freedom or break apart and gain more freedom.

  • BoiledCabbage

    Never trust a Commie, especially when they have been pretending to be friendly.

    • Kenneth O’Keeffe

      Agree with that to a degree, but actually the Chinese leadership, with a quasi-free-market shares more of the characteristics of fascism than of communism. Either way, I would love to see the Chinese state in severe economic crisis. Who knows what that might precipitate on the political front? Will people tolerate such repression when the economic benefits of the system start to dwindle or even evaporate?

  • engineer1972

    Compared to then, “we” now have smart phones, instant communication worldwide and social media. It is alot easier to report injustices that even a few years ago could have been got away with.

    I don’t think the Chinese are daft enough to try anything heavy handed due to this. Times are very different.

  • The “protests” in Hong Kong are as staged as were the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests…

    Those who were killed at Tiananmen Square weren’t the Communist leaders and their Communist followers, but non-Communist dupes who had no clue what they were taking part in, and those who safely marched out of Tiananmen Square minutes before the firing started, carrying Communist banners, never did call for democracy in China…


    In the picture linked above, notice all the disgusting PRC flags being waved by the Communist student protesters at Tiananmen Square!

    “Q. In New Lies for Old, Golitsyn explained that the Sino-Soviet “split” was false, forming part of a deception designed to persuade the West that the world Communist movement was disunited. What is the current position?

    A. The Sino-Soviet “split” was indeed a classic Leninist dialectical deception which masked the continuing collaboration between the two most important and powerful Communist Parties in the world, in pursuit of the long-range strategy which was ratified, as Golitsyn explained in New Lies for Old [the correct wording used by Golitsyn is “Long-Range Policy”], at the Eighty-One Party Congress held in Moscow in November 1960. It was at that Congress that the Communist parties agreed to collaborate over a period of decades in pursuit of the objective of “convergence” leading to world government.

    Golitsyn is most frequently attacked for his assertion that the Sino-Soviet “split” was false, because this particular element of the deception strategy is the most sensitive of all. If the West were to become aware that in fact the Russians and Chinese have been working closely together all along, and are the closest of allies, it would recognize the grave danger it faces. But of course, we now have a facade which perpetuates the illusion of the “split.”

    The Tiananmen Square atrocity in June 1989 provided a clear signal to Chinese dissidents that political perestroika was not about to be permitted in China. Golitsyn explains in The Perestroika Deception that the core demonstrators who appear to have been controlled* and carried banners supporting the Chinese Communist Party suddenly marched out of the Square in formation. The shooting started after they had left; those who were killed were true dissidents who had traveled to Beijing to join in the demonstrations.

    The current spectacle is of “non”-Communism in Russia and overt Communism in China. This preserves the illusion of the “split,” and has provided the backdrop against which the two countries are collaborating in a coordinated military buildup of ominous proportions. The Russian-Chinese military agreement of 1993 has been followed by further accords, and the scale of China’s buildup is now causing serious alarm in Western defense circles, which still do not understand that the two countries are allies.” —




    Non-students known as “blackhands” played the most important roles in the movement. According to one movement leader, interviewed in the November/December 1989 CV Magazine, “Blackhands give the students ideas, support them, and bring money. They are the ones who are really in control.” These unidentified persons were described as being older and more experienced than the students. Some of them may well have been members of the Public Security Ministry, Communist China’s secret police.

    A New York Times story released May 1st [forgetting that Communist nations have but one over ridding objective–the “liberation” of the world, which is why Communists exist in the first place!], while insisting that the demonstrations were largely spontaneous, acknowledged that “it is possible that some [Communist party] leaders who favor more rapid change are doing what they can to help the students succeed.” Certainly, most student demonstrators had little idea that they might be pawns in a larger game of disinformation. The same article quoted one student leader as saying, “Those who walk in the front row of the demonstration and get caught are not the most important leaders.”

  • Kasperlos

    Anyone in Hong Kong who values and loves freedom and democratic ideals would be foolish not to have fear – I think most do. Having fear is an instinct humans have for survival, protection purposes. A brief study of the last 100 years of history of power, wealth, and government will quickly show that most corrupt and autocratic regimes in this world give a wit about their populace when it comes to survival. The Mandarins in Beijing and in Hong Kong value their power, position and money over any particular ideology. It’s about them, their fellow cronies, crooks, oligarchs, criminals, hacks, syncophants, enforcers, and family members. This combined feudal and fascist system will take any and all measures to quash any uprising that threatens their comfortable and privileged world. So, no, you’re not off base to have fear for what could happen in Hong Kong.

  • John Andrews

    I hope the students and democracy win.
    If I was President Xi I would seal off the zone of protest and, without violence, remove the protesters one-by-one. Then I would record their names, issue threats regarding their future careers and implement mild penalties.

  • Ed  

    ….. and people wonder why Vancouver real estate prices are sky high.

  • Pyrus Gau

    yes, i beg to the PLA to clear the roads from this student terrorists. just shoot a few of them and the rest will run home. they can be charged and jailed later.