On the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen, Speculations About China’s Future


By: Kristia Cavere

Twenty years ago, in the spring of 1989, millions of Chinese people peacefully demanded democracy from their Communist government. Centered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the protesters were protected by the populace who set up barriers to keep them free from government intervention. But on the morning of June 4th, the Communist regime ordered tanks and soldiers to quell the protest. The violence and bloodshed that was the result has two opposing witnesses. The Chinese government insisted that 241 people died, whereas the Chinese Red Cross stated that over 2,600 had perished.

Two decades later the innocent blood that was spilled in Tiananmen has been washed clean, but the Communist regime that ordered a military attack on its own citizens still remains. Communism came to China in 1949, and currently there are three theories regarding its sustainability in that nation.

First is the belief that economic development will naturally lead to a more open and democratic government, which is what the American public has been assured by every President since Nixon. The primary reasoning for this assumption is that economic development proceeded democracy for Taiwan and South Korea, and it is hypothesized that China will follow this path. However, there are two problems with this logic. As compared to Taiwan and South Korea, China is a much bigger country with diverse populations, with a 65-million urban middle class and over 900 million rural farmers. Both of the aforementioned countries were dependent on the U.S. military, and it was through American pressure that Taiwan and South Korea were influenced to become democratic.

China is neither dependent on our military or under our influence. To continue to believe that economic growth will bring democracy to China, after decades of their having increasing advances in their economy, is naiveté at best.

The second theory is that China is headed toward a disaster such as an economic collapse or political disintegration. Those who champion this view state that the corruption within all factions of the governing bodies, from the military to scientists, will bring about a revolution from within. The thousands of protests that the Chinese citizens are participating in every year is proof of the growing unrest. However, since Tiananmen the government has become more proficient at repressing dissent as well as assuring that the rest of the world is not aware of it.

The third scenario for China’s future is that they are not headed toward democracy or any other political liberalization. A China that would continue to grow economically as they remain a communist state is the most likely scenario, and one that has the most vocal critics through business executives eager to trade with China, and think tanks and other organizations whose funding depends on contributions from corporations that do business in China.

The inclination of American elites to refrain from public critique of the Chinese one-party system is influenced by money. As James Mann stated in his book The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression, “There are huge and growing financial incentives for prominent Americans to support the status quo in China.” Mr. Mann demonstrates that U.S. political leaders and cabinet members who do not challenge China are able to, after leaving office, more readily have lucrative careers as advisors to corporate executives doing business with China. Many former politicians, both on the left and the right, join consulting firms which advise companies seeking to do business with China, or join business or international law firms which assist with trade. And many of Washington’s most prominent think tanks, from the liberal Brookings to the conservative Heritage, receive substantial donations from corporations conducting business in China.

The repression in China is not improving but is getting worse. The Communist regime continues to arrest and detain political dissidents, Tibetan activists, journalists, and Internet pioneers. A 2007 Council on Foreign Relations report stated there was “no evidence to suggest that China is planning to pursue significant democratic reforms in the near term.”

Our trade with China has benefitted business interests in both their country and ours, but it has not helped the average working person in either nation. For over two decades the U.S. government and businesses has been eager to conduct business with China, and they have dismissed the impact of the repression of the Chinese people through their communist government.

China lacks a democratic history, and any increase in openness and freedom is usually short lived and marked by a new ruling group seizing control and using the same repressive tactics with a new face. There are certainly significant numbers of citizens within China who wish to open their society and merge it with more Western traditions; however, they are not the ones that hold power.

Perhaps the first sign that authoritarianism is leaving China will be when people are able to peacefully express themselves in public, run Google searches without censorship, and demand liberty. We can only hope that the Chinese Communist government will one day be willing to embrace the free choice of its citizenry and deal honorably with sometimes unpleasant situations, remembering that the dignity of life has both order and freedom.

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