Reflecting the People’s Liberation Army’s brutal 1989 crackdown on students and protest activists who occupied Beijing’s vast Tiananmen Square, Chinese writer Ma Jian once wrote “We were all victims of the massacre, whether we survived June 4 or not. Fear and avarice have strangled morality.” More than three decades later, as news of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) crackdown in Xinjiang and Hong Kong becomes alarmingly widespread, it’s hard not to think of the past as the prologue. , that massacre was indicative of the CCP’s slow but steady turn toward totalitarianism, which is now all too evident. Party fear and greed continue to stifle morality, even more severely.
But because of the connection between the past and present tendency of the CCP to brutally silence dissenting voices, interest in the events of spring 1989 continued unabated, with reports New data about the massacre and the events leading up to it have emerged in recent years. A new book, “Tiananmen Square, Protests: A Diplomat Looking Back,” by former Indian Foreign Minister Vijay Gokhale adds a lot to this collection. Analysis by a diplomat drawn from firsthand experience – Gokhale was posted in the Indian Embassy in Beijing at the time, and later as India’s ambassador to China – the book is at the same time a great introduction to a tumultuous period in the CCP’s history as well as a window into how senior Indian officials view the party and its beliefs.
In an email interview with The Diplomat Editor Abhijnan Rej, Gokhale discusses the massacre, how it was viewed abroad, and the lasting shadow it cast over China’s later development. Country.
You were posted in Beijing as an Indian diplomat during the 1989 events at Tiananmen Square. What memory of that time is still vivid for you?
The event was a pivotal moment in Chinese politics. I still vividly recall the situation as if it had happened yesterday, and have memorized it in my new book. Memorable memories are thousands of Chinese students who came to the Square day after day to protest peacefully. In a brief moment of open-mindedness and questioning, I saw a side of the Chinese that I never had the chance to see again.
What are thoughts in New Delhi about the short-term as well as the long-term impact of the massacre on China’s domestic trajectory and international relations?
After a long period of 34 years, India has resumed dialogue with China at the highest level following the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in December 1988. In the short term, the government in New Delhi is concerned that the The newly established process may be disturbed by these political developments. Public awareness in India of developments in China is not as high as in the West and thus the events in Tiananmen [Square] does not evoke the same interest and introspection as elsewhere. The Tiananmen incident did not disrupt India-China relations and, in fact, marked the beginning of a new paradigm that existed until very recently.
At one point in your book, you write that after the breakup of the Soviet Union, “The Chinese leadership drew the inference that the United States, and the West as a whole, wanted to effect regime change in other countries.” communism.” Decades later, how widespread is that sentiment in China?
Ever since US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles spoke of the West’s desire to carry out a “peaceful evolution” in Communist countries towards democracy, the Chinese leadership has always believed that the West wants regime change. . This view is reinforced by the Tiananmen protests, behind which the Chinese leadership has seen a “foreign hand”. The collapse of the Soviet Union shocked them, and it became a subject for deep reflection and study. The main takeaway is that the Soviet Union collapsed because it turned its back on its own historical and ideological experiences, and that China should uphold its core belief in Chinese-style socialism. under the absolute leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The correctness of this “way” is being reiterated under Xi Jinping as the CPC begins its second 100 years of existence.
You also talk about the meeting on May 21, 1989 after martial law was imposed in Beijing, where Deng Xiaoping and other senior leaders concluded that political reform would be an area not to be missed. by. To what extent could the Western powers distinguish this stance at the time?
I’m sure the West quickly realized that a factional struggle was taking place within the Chinese Communist Party, and [then CPC general secretary] The dismissal of Zhao Ziyang would likely result in a doubling of any form of political liberalization. I do not believe that the West, therefore, entertains any illusions about democracy any time soon. If there is a misperception by the West, it will raise the expectation that China can become “more normal” and therefore more receptive to Western influences, with engagement and progress. Ministry of Economics. For that reason, the West tends to give them the benefit of the doubt until it is too late. Over the past decade, it has become clear that the Chinese Communist Party is incapable of “Westernizing,” and now, a policy adjustment is underway for both sides.
Turning to the present, to what extent do you rate the concentration of power in the hands of Xi Jinping as a contributing factor to China’s penetration, both at home and abroad? Does Mr. Xi need to appear uncompromisingly in his political survival strategy?
On one level, Mr. Xi is consolidating power significantly. His actions appear to reverse Deng Xiaoping’s attempt to institutionalize the distribution of responsibilities and decentralization of power within the top leadership. On another level, however, Mr. Xi insists, as Deng did, that the survival of the Communist Party must take precedence over all other factors. His current efforts to centralize, reorganize and re-educate the cadres, as well as promote the party’s history and values, should be viewed from this perspective. I think Mr. Xi sees it as his historic responsibility and destiny, keeping the flag for the CPC by passing on the “red gene” of communism to the next generations. What may externally be seen as a new phase of centralization, may well be survival strategy.
What do you think is the biggest takeaway in contemporary analyzes of China’s medium and long-term trajectory?
We need to get rid of the notion that China has reasons and behaves like the West, or even India. They are an old civilization with a long-standing strategic culture and a distinct worldview that sets them apart from others. A more in-depth study is needed to isolate and identify the impulses and triggers of action. The West has excellent talent and resources while India has a better understanding of civilization and collaborative efforts in analysis could yield a more precise set of standards for determining the long-term trajectory. .