BEIJING ( Associated Press) — From the deadly crushing of Beijing’s 1989 pro-democracy protests to the suppression of Hong Kong’s opposition four decades later, the Communist Party of China has demonstrated a determination and ability to stay in power that has been met with strong criticism from Western criticism. and is impervious to sanctions.
As Beijing prepares to hold the Winter Olympics next week, Chinese President and party leader Xi Jinping appears to be in control. The party has made political stability paramount and says it has been the foundation of economic development. Which has made life better and put the nation on the path of becoming a regional if not a global power.
While many have benefited financially, it has been paid by those who wanted more freedom, from ethnic groups in the far western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang to mass student-led protesters in Hong Kong in 2019. The party leadership was divided when a previous generation of student protesters took control of the symbolically important grounds of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square for weeks in 1989. Radical leaders won and the protesters were crushed rather than accommodated, a fatal decision that has guided the party’s approach to this day.
“The world came with the notion that with economic engagement with China, China would flourish, which would give rise to a powerful middle class, which would give rise to a civil society which would then give rise to a democracy that would make China the world. A responsible stakeholder in the region,” said Wu’er Caixi, who helped lead the 1989 protests as a university student and now lives in exile in Taiwan.
He said this notion turned out to be naive and wrong.
Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics raised hopes that reforms may be on the way, bringing more space for free speech, free labor unions and the protection of ethnic groups’ cultural and religious identities. Interrupting the torch relay, Tibetan groups protested in China and abroad.
Nearly 15 years later, on the eve of the Winter Games, the reality is very different, Tibet remains firmly under the control of the Communist Party, and the government launched a fierce crackdown against Ottoman Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang in 2017 to drive out the opposition in Hong Kong in response to mass protests that turned violent in 2019. New laws and loyalty requirements implemented.
Under Xi, who came to power in 2012, the party has cracked down on voices dissatisfied with the #MeToo movement and anyone who challenges its version of the events that exposed citizens to the crisis and chaos in Wuhan in the early days. Briefly flourished for journalists. from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Xi is now expected to be appointed to a third five-year term as general secretary of the ruling party this fall, cementing his position as China’s strongest leader since Mao Zedong. With no term limit on office, Xi could remain leader indefinitely, with no clearly defined rules on succession.
Xi arrived at the party meeting due to a strong economy, an end to separatist violence in Xinjiang and the passage of a comprehensive national security law, and electoral changes in Hong Kong that quelled political opposition in the region.
“Xi Jinping wants to be a leader like Mao,” said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist and veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy activist who now lives in Australia. Mao Zedong established the Communist State of China in 1949 and led the country for more than two decades.
Cheng said that after maintaining relative prosperity and tighter political controls, Xi and the party face little pressure and there is no need to make concessions.
“There are no checks and balances domestically and internationally. As a result, there is an increasingly authoritarian regime,” he said.
The suppression of the Tiananmen protests marked the end of a period of limited political liberalization in the 1980s. The chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 and the collapse of the Soviet Union had already impressed the ruling party that political stability should be maintained at any cost.
The action with tanks and assault troops was seen as the only way to continue Communist Party rule, and Xi has since talked about realizing the “Chinese dream” of restoring the country’s status in the world. Where is it? The events of 1989 remain a taboo subject in China to this day.
Free expression and civil rights advocates continued to push boundaries in future years. Beijing responded to some appeals by releasing pro-democracy activists into foreign exile.
At the same time, the party opened new avenues for education and employment, eased restrictions on the private sector, and welcomed foreign investment. A new generation of young Chinese grew up with heightened expectations and little knowledge of the political upheavals of previous years.
Despite his misgivings about the action, China’s booming economy was too much to ignore, and Western democracies increasingly reunited with the regime in the 1990s and 2000s.
Recently, the US has turned against China, viewing what is now the world’s second largest economy, as a growing competitor as well as an opportunity. China’s policies in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and human rights in general, have brought travel and financial sanctions on officials and companies involved from the US and others.
Beijing has responded with dismissal and disdain. A diplomatic boycott of the Olympics announced by Washington, the UK and others was greeted with contempt by Beijing, calling it a meaningless gesture that would not change anything.
China has sought to redefine human rights as an improvement in quality of life, and cites economic growth and poverty reduction as real determinants. It has kicked off a campaign to boycott cotton goods and other products from Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor by foreign politicians, business groups and companies.
China calls such claims the “lies of the century”, although some experts say the bad publicity may have prompted it to shut down the prison-like system of its internment camps.
But activists’ demands to move the Olympics out of China have gone unheard. The diplomatic boycott will not prevent athletes from competing. Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said the International Olympic Committee has lost all credibility on promoting human rights after choosing Beijing for the Winter Games.
Caixi, a former Tiananmen protester and an ethnic Uighur, said China could not have succeeded in its defiance without the consent of the international community.
“China can get away with all this only because the world is giving,” he said.
Associated Press journalist Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.