Tiananmen 2.0? Freedom is coming to China – one way or another.
China's fierce crackdown of sporadic protests in recent weeks shows that Communist leaders there are watching the Arab uprisings with great anxiety. China would be wise to stay ahead of events by rolling out political reforms.
For the second time in just over two decades, China’s Communist leaders watch anxiously as a series of popular revolutions in another critical area of the world sweep out entrenched dictators and threaten to reverberate in the People’s Republic.Skip to next paragraph
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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was fellow Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that toppled under people power. Now it is Arab and Persian tyrants who face the wrath of the people they have oppressed for generations. Events have seemed to reach the critical tipping-point when the regime’s fear of the people exceeds the people’s fear of the regime.
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Chinese bloggers have been quick to raise the obvious question – could it happen in China? – and to begin testing the waters. Internet postings have called for silent protests in several Chinese cities to emulate Tunisia’s “jasmine revolution.” They have spawned a few sporadic gatherings that the authorities quickly snuffed out before they could grow – but it was a surprisingly early indication that the spark of hope for freedom in China is not extinguished.
Libya’s violent and indiscriminate crackdown against the protesters posed a dilemma for Beijing because it endangered thousands of Chinese working there. Compelled to defend its own citizens against mistreatment by a foreign government, China for the first time openly criticized a Mideast dictator’s repression of its people.
But Muammar Qaddafi’s brutal actions evoke an image the Chinese government would prefer forgotten – its own crushing of the peaceful protest of students and workers on Tiananmen Square in 1989. After Tunisia and Egypt, a collapse of the Libyan regime despite its bloody response could provide Chinese citizens with even more dangerous inspiration.
With Chinese workers now out of harm’s way in Libya, Beijing may have reason to hope the Tripoli regime survives the popular revolt. Though Beijing did vote to suspend Libya from the UN Human rights council, China would only agree to a Security Council resolution that did not authorize the use of force against Libya, and it has not joined the US and other governments in calling for Qaddafi to resign.
As for the possibility of copycat protests in China, the Obama administration, struggling to cope with the rapid developments in the Mideast, may well feel compelled to discourage them. That attitude would be understandable, and consistent with the first Bush administration’s cautious response to tumultuous events in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and Tiananmen two decades ago. US officials were aghast then at the threat to what seemed their highest diplomatic value: stability.