It was 15 years ago today that the Communist leadership of the People’s Republic of China sent tanks into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to subdue peaceful demonstrations. Thousands were killed and disappeared into the nation’s gulags. In the years since, China has been welcomed into the community of nations with open arms, winning the 2008 Summer Olympics and being admitted into the World Trade Organization. The hope was that engagement and exposure to civilized governments would encourage Beijing’s thugs to appreciate the rule of law. So far, the strategy has not worked. China’s Communist rulers are as tyrannical as ever.
The regime’s posture toward Hong Kong and Taiwan exposes how far its leaders are from accepting political reforms. In Hong Kong, reporters have been harassed, radio personalities forced off the airwaves, and the legislature prohibited from even debating the topic of direct elections to choose the region’s representatives. A month ago, Beijing ordered a naval battle group into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor in a chilling show of force to discourage the democratic movement there. In recent weeks, mainland officials have reiterated that a declaration of Taiwanese independence would trigger an attack, and the People’s Liberation Army continues its military buildup across the Taiwan Strait to show that the threat is serious.
Appeasement-oriented Sinophiles have an original way of looking at today’s anniversary. They argue that the 1989 crackdown actually aided the cause of democracy because Beijing is afraid of the international backlash similar repression would cause today. If anything, the opposite is true. Increased business and diplomatic relationships after Tiananmen and during Hong Kong and Taiwan hostilities signal that the world isn’t interested in interfering in Chinese affairs.
Beijing’s reaction to democratic movements is always the same, whether they be in Hong Kong, Taiwan or in the Communist capital of Beijing itself. The instinct is to use force to suppress. What strikes fear into the Communists is the idea that any Chinese can live in free systems based on popular sovereignty and political rights for the people. It is a precedent they desperately want to squelch before the ideas take root in the imagination of the more than 1 billion mainlanders who still live under authoritarian rule.
As a prerequisite for negotiation with mainland officials, Hong Kong democrats are demanding that Beijing admit that the violent crackdown at Tiananmen 15 years ago was a mistake and announce that the Communist Party intends to take a more progressive approach to freedom of speech and assembly in greater China. So far the Communists have refused and have begun to apply more strongarm tactics in Hong Kong. Until there is a change in this belligerent attitude, the dream of freedom and democracy for the Chinese people is unrealistic.