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China Insider

China Insider | The Legacy of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Taiwanese Sovereignty, and the Shangri-La Dialogues

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miles_yu
Senior Fellow and Director, China Center
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Miles Yu and the team commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 by recapping what led to that fateful day, the fallout that ensued in China and around the globe for communist movements, and why its legacy still matters today. They then covered how the United States righted the diplomatic wrong surrounding United Nations Resolution 2758, which China used to exclude Taiwan from international participation, and assessed the outcome of last week's Shangri-La Dialogues in Singapore. 

China Insider is a weekly podcast project from Hudson Institute's China Center, hosted by Miles Yu, who provides weekly news that mainstream American outlets often miss, as well as in-depth commentary and analysis on the China challenge and the free world’s future.

Episode Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

Miles Yu:

Welcome to China Insider, a podcast from the Hudson Institute's China Center. I am Miles Yu, senior fellow and director of the China Center. Join me each week along with my colleague, Shane Leary, for our analysis of the major events concerning China, China threat, and their implications to the US and beyond.

Philip Hegseth:

I'm Phil Hegseth filling in for Shane Leary this week. It's June 4th, and we've got three topics for miles. The first is that today, June 4th, marks 35 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 miles recounts what led to the horrors of that day, the fallout in China and around the globe for communist movements and why its legacy and impact still matter today. Next, we return to the tensions around Taiwanese sovereignty with the US righting the diplomatic wrong that was the UN resolution 2758, which the PRC has historically used to exclude Taiwan from international participation. And finally, miles recaps. Last week's Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore were regional voices from Taiwan in the Philippines alongside Ukrainian president. Zelensky expressed mounting frustration with Chinese illegal and aggressive actions towards his neighbors. Miles, how are you?

Miles Yu:

Very good, Phil. Thank you for standing in for Shane.

Philip Hegseth:

No problem, and happy to be back on today because it's an important day for a lot of reasons. Today is June 4th, which marks the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Could you start off miles by giving us a quick SparkNotes version, myself, and the audience of exactly what happened on that day in 1989.

Miles Yu:

35 years ago today, the Chinese Communist Party moved in tanks, machine guns and soldiers into the nerve center of Chinese politics, which is the largest public square in the world, Tiananmen square, massacred hundreds if not thousands of its innocent civilian citizens who are protesting against government corruption against the communist regime. Now, Tiananmen Massacre took place in Tiananmen, but there was not just that particular spot. It was nationwide. Hundreds of millions of people went to street in various cities in China. So this indicated basically the crisis of communism in 1989. 1989 was a very momentous year for the worldwide communist movement. What happened is in the 1980s, both the Soviet style communist movement and Chinese style communist movement were in crisis. In crisis because the system was intrinsically not working. So both Soviet leadership and Chinese leadership were embarked on something called the reform. But reform took on different terms in the Soviet Union.

The reformer was Gorbachev, who basically became the general Secretary of Soviet Communist Party in 1985. So Gorbachev was a forward-looking kind of guy. He realized his job was to save a Soviet system, communist system, but then in order to solve the problem, he got to solve two issues. One is the issue of local corruption. So what Gorbachev did was to start something with called Perestroika, that is restructuring by implementing local elections, electing out the local writing, communist cadres the apparatchiks, and [inaudible] the Soviet system. Secondly, Gorbachev believed that Soviet Union was dead because there's no creativity, there's no freedom. So he starts something called the Glasnost, that means political freedom, lift the ban on parties, lift the ban on publications, and that Perestroika and that Glasnost made the Soviet Union the reform very, very successful within communist movement. So Gorbachev became a hero for the reformers inside China, and even President Reagan in the United States, a die-hard cold-warrior, believed Gorbachev is different kind of communist. It's somebody he could talk to. 

In China, on the other hand, the reform took on the different term under the tutelage of the Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Now, Deng Xiaoping was a reformer. He believed the economic development could save the Chinese communism from collapsing, but also he's a diehard Marxist-Leninist. He believed Gorbachev was wrong in lifting political ban in stock, sort of implementing a Perestroika. So Deng Xiaoping came out with something called four Cardinal principles. No matter what you do economically in China, opening up to the West to the US market, the Chinese Communist Party must maintain four basic things. One is communism, Marxism Leninism, and Mao Zedong Thought. Secondly, the Proletariat dictatorship, all this repression regime and mechanisms. Thirdly, is a monopoly of all powers by the Chinese Communist Party. Fourthly is something called the socialism, which basically is a nationalization of all the assets, what Chinese Communist Party called the means of production.

By the mid to end of 1980s, the Chinese reform was dead in contrast with the Soviet success. So people were very, very upset about the kind of stuff. All they need was an opportunity. And that opportunity came on May 15th, 1989, after the death of the reform-minded person in China who was purged by Deng Xiaoping, a guy by the name of Hu Yaobang. But then a month later after he died, people went to Square to mourn his death. Mr. Reformer, the Soviet General party secretary, Gorbachev himself, paid visit to China. This is the first time in 30 years.

Philip Hegseth:

Oh wow.

Miles Yu:

Gorbachev himself paid a four day visit to China. That opportunity was captured by the protestors. They occupied Tiananmen Square. Hundreds of thousands people went to the Square to impress Soviet to help him as a hero. And this of course enraged the Chinese Communist Party leadership, particularly Deng Xiaoping himself because this will mean a denial of the legitimacy of his reform. And by the way, May 15th, middle of May is also the final exam week in China. So college students, basically, this is a good time for them to go to Square to relieve their stress. But what you have here is that inspiration by Mr. Gorbachev. Gorbachev stayed in China for four days from May 15th, 1989 to May 18th, 1989. Those four days really changed China. People went to Square to [inaudible] all these banners in Russian and in Chinese saying democracy are shared ideal. This is amazing. It's a huge humiliation.

Because of this momentous historic moment of the two giants of communist world met together, China patch up their past. And so global media went to China to cover these events. This is also a result of global information revolution. So the students who were very savvy, media savvy, they caught this moment and the cameras were focusing on them. The student protested themselves instead of the Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping himself and students staged a hunger strike, which will make this a whole issue, very dramatic. So Tiananmen Square was a focus of the world, the focus of the conscience of the world. At the time when Gorbachev left, within days Deng Xiaoping met of his mind, he had to crack down. So in the early morning of June 4th and the Chinese moving tanks and conducted the most disgusting massacre of its own people, but it's a regular army, not the police with tanks, machine guns. That's the symbol that's very, very important. This is what happened on that day. And ever since the Chinese Communist Party has banned all form of a commemoration of this, and this is another abomination of the regime. 

Philip Hegseth:

So, Miles, that was a contemptuous number of weeks. What was the fallout from something like that? You said there was national media there, the students were very vocal. What was the fallout from that and what's the impact been the legacy of it? Even since then?

Miles Yu:

The legacy is of monumental significance because this is basically the essence of 1989. 1989 [is marked] by the triumph of the coming down of the Berlin wall, the end of communism in Eastern Europe. That triumph was triggered by what went on in China in May and June of 1989. The Chinese students started the revolution of 1989 that brought down the Berlin wall. It went something like this. Gorbachev visited China, and then massacre ensued. He was visibly shaken. The world wanted to ask Mr. Gorbachev one question, would you repeat something that Deng Xiaoping had done in Tiananmen Square, or would you repeat as the general secretary of the Soviet Union what Khrushchev did to the Hungarians 1956 or what Brezhnev did to the Czechoslovakians in 1968? Gorbachev had a long pause finally that he said, no, I would not repeat what my predecessor have done within the Soviet system.

I would not speak, repeat what danger Japan had just done to the Chinese people. That was the end of communism in Eastern Europe because by that time, you already have thousands of people in various capitals of Eastern Europe, in Prague, in Warsaw, protesting the Chinese government brutality in front the Chinese embassies, other foreign missions. And now Gorbachev said, if we did something here in Eastern Europe like our forefathers down in 1956 in 1968, and there will be no massacre like the one we just saw in Tiananmen Square. That was the beginning of a massive protest against communist regimes in eastern Europe, starting in Czechoslovakia, started in Warsaw, and then finally culminated in East Germany because East Germany was then ruled by a diehard communist by the name of Eric Honecker. Honecker was a hundred percent agreement with opinion for the crackdown. He was the most notorious.

East Germans were very enraged by him. So they staged nationwide protest in East Germany, paralyzed the government. Eric Honecker had to resign when he resigned, a young guy took over, Krenz. Krenz become the Secretary General of this East German communist party. But he made a mistake. So in August of 1989, he paid a visit to China and greeted the massacre of Tiananmen Square in China. Their picture came back to East Germany. People were enraged. So it was East German citizens who took to the street in Leipzig, east Berlin and protest the government, [inaudible], the government. And then finally they tried to get out of East Germany, try to come to the West. So in order to do that, east Germans moved to the borders in droves. They cross border in Czechoslovakia and Hungary trying to get to Switzerland and the border was closed and this further enraged the East Germans.

So instead, they basically moved the direction of the massive migration exodus to Brandenburg, which obviously is a gate of the Berlin War. And the massive protest was so powerful that on November 9th, 1989, east German Poly Bureau decided to open up the gate at Brandenburg. That was the beginning of the end of the communism in the Soviet system. That day. The Berlin War came down, all these momentous events started in Tiananmen Square. So it was a triumph East Germany and in Slovakia in Poland, but it was a tragedy in China. So Counter-revolutionary movement continued. The most important implication to the United States is that it had  really profound policy implications. Now, you recall at the time the US policy toward China was still a policy of engagement, which was initiated by President Richard Nixon himself, President George HW Bush, Bush 41, was the president at the time of massacre.

He was the engager. He wanted to continue the engagement despite all this brutality, which was also shocking to him. He implemented a lot of sanctions against China. But ultimately, he wanted the engagement policy to continue because he believed that Deng Xiaoping was on the right path. So, he dispatched his national security advisor to go to China to secretly meet with Deng Xiaoping and a promising continued engagement. That was such a monumental strategic miscalculation. So our engagement policy was in crisis, and George HW Bush saved it. That policy of engagement continued with Bush and onward, and it was blindsided American policy toward China for another several decades until Donald Trump came along. And the point here is when Donald Trump came along, the United States, China relationship was already in dire straits, very bad. Most people in Washington DC who followed the line of engagement, blame Xi Jinping for this.

So the inflection point was 2012. For most people in Washington, that's the year when Xi Jinping came to power. They believe Xi Jinping soured everything. Therefore, our job for the United States is to restore the US-China relationship to the point before 2012 to the era of Deng Xiaoping. Therefore, we have to continue the engagement policy. Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo in particular said, wait a second. That was wrong. We've got to start the inflection point, not to 2012, but to 1989, to the point of time and square, because ultimately the confrontation between China and the United States is not about which leader was in charge in China, it was about two politically incompatible, ideologically confrontational systems, Chinese communism and American democratic capitalism. That's why Mr. Pompeo on the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen massacre in 2019 issued the most comprehensive most moving statement to commemorate the heroes of Tiananmen massacre and while hailing the triumph of Berlin War is coming down. And three years ago, Mr. Pompeo and I co-authored an op-Ed, which was published in the Hill to talk about this triumph and tragedy of 1989. So you see the Tiananmen massacre means a lot more things than just what happened and the immediate impact, it was far more important. It truly is a global event that will mark as the hallmark in the history books of the entire world.

Philip Hegseth:

Yeah. One last question on this. It does seem to be a giant domino that had ramifications around the globe. You're talking about the Berlin Wall, but also US policy going forward. A lot of it comes back to that day in 1989, but what's the legacy? What are the dominoes that fell inside China after? What's the legacy of Tiananmen Square inside China?

Miles Yu:

The domino, in fact inside China was equally profound because the Chinese communist leadership said they learned the lesson in 1989, which means that you can never loosen up political control. So they very…

Philip Hegseth:

Different lesson.

Miles Yu:

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a betrayal of Marxist-Leninism by Mr. Gorbachev. Gorbachev is officially a traitor to communist cause in Chinese party books. So the result is that the Chinese Communist party since Deng Xiaoping, since Jiang Zemin, since Hu Jintao, and continue on today with Xi Jinping, have implemented this draconian system of repression and surveillance over the Chinese people. So basically you have seen the most sophisticated regime of repression in the history of the world in China, and they do in such a high-tech way. It has a beguiling surface of a benign dictatorship. It's not the Chinese dictatorship is not benign. This draconian is very dystopian. As a result, the Chinese Communist Party has also implemented the most efficient censorship system. You cannot really find anything, obviously mentioning Tiananmen massacre. You cannot Google anything in China or Google his banned. You go to Chinese search engine, your type of Tiananmen is smiling faces, happy foreigners come here to admire a Chinese architectural marvel. 

There's nothing about the massacre itself. You Google in a free world, tell a massacre, not only even tell massacre, just tell in the world, you showed up with this tragedy 35 years ago, right? Blood killings and dead bodies and machine guns, tanks, the sheer contrast between freedom and tyranny. It's so amazingly clear, and I hope that every American listening to this program will go just do that. Such a simple practice, try to get into the Chinese system, Baidu, for example, the search for Tiananmen to search the normal Google and you can find out the contract. It will be shocking to you.

Philip Hegseth:

Anything else there? Miles?

Miles Yu:

Well, I think the US in China, you asked me earlier about their attitude over there. Number one, it is dangerous to even talk about Tiananmen. And number two, because of pressure from above. Most people just plain ignorant, I don't really believe they are totally ignorant of this. They know they cannot really say it. That's why many Chinese, when they get out China, all the books about Tiananmen are selling like hotcakes. They want to know, they want to know the truth. So the power of truth is very important. I think the Chinese company party is not only the enemy of freedom, ultimately they're the enemy of truth and that also is their weakest spot. And if we insist on telling the Chinese people the truth and other regimes foundation will be shaken.

Philip Hegseth:

Great place to end on next topic, we return again to the ongoing in tensions of Taiwan's sovereignty from the PRC, but with a new flashpoint. Last week, the US refuted UN resolution 2758, which the PRC often uses to reject Taiwan's sovereignty and exclude it from many of the world's international institutions such as the World Health Organization, the WHO. This seems to be another example of the one China policy versus the one China principle. Miles, so to start here, could you explain for me in the audience what the history of the UN resolution 2758 is in context of all this?

Miles Yu:

I mean UN resolution 2758 was a resolution adopted by General assembly. We call it UNGA in 1971. And this was a very peculiar resolution. First of all, it was meant to solve one question that no longer exists at all, that is who represents China at the UN. Now, there are three concepts we have to be clear here. One is the People's Republic China called PRC, another one's Republic of China, which is now Taiwan. So the ultimate question is, what is China in PRC and in ROC? So who should have the rightful representation at the UN? That was what the resolution was all about. Remember, it's not the UN Security Council resolution, which is far more powerful. It is UNGA general assembly resolution, which is not binding. This resolution was proposed by Albania, China's buddy at the time. The resolution passed by simple majority, which is also in violation of the rule.

And it says that the representation of China at the United Nations should be given to the People's Republic of China, PRC, the Chinese Communist government. Now what about the representation of Taiwan, the ROC? It didn't say at all. It says this, while recognizing PRC’s rightful representation at the un, the United Nations should repel the representatives of Chiang Kai Shek. She who was then the leader of the KMT in Taiwan. Now it's representative of a political party or a person, not once was were Taiwan or ROC mentioned in the resolution. Gotcha. The competition for the representation at the UN of China was lost to Taiwan. China won. The peculiar thing is a few years later in the early 1990s, the Taiwanese government said, okay, you won China. We give up. You were representing China. We Taiwanese people, Taiwanese government. We don't want to represent China. Now what about the Taiwan representation?

Now? So this is the issue right now, even though the 2758 resolution still never solved, the problem of the representation of the 23 million Taiwanese people, that's basically the what about. The Chinese government completely misinterpreted that resolution. That's why the US government refuted that a couple weeks ago. And very clearly, I'm so glad that the Biden team actually did this. Procedurally, the UN resolution at the UNGA at the General Assembly normally is non-binding. To make it more important, you have to have two thirds of votes on important questions. Now, this obviously is a very important question, otherwise it only required simple majority, 51% to pass. But then came the United Kingdom, the UK basically betrayed the United States. They led the team to say, Hey, listen, this is not an important issue, so therefore it only requires simple majority. And that's how this whole idea was passed. The resolution by simple majority, not two thirds normally would require.

Now both the United States and China and the ROC Taiwan were the legitimate members of the UN Security Council. Permanent members of course, Security Council cannot veto UNGA resolutions, but you can veto any proposal in a Security Council. The very peculiar thing is that United States did not really launch any diplomatic effort at all to veto this whole thing through the Security council. I think this shows the absolutely appalling diplomatic ineptitude at the time through Mr. Kissinger, through Mr. Bush, because Henry Kissinger at the time was during his second secret trip to China. He was in Beijing talking with the Chinese communist leadership about this very issue, the UN representation. I believe he was remote controlling the UN delegation, which was then headed by Ambassador George HW Bush. And yes, we were pushing for the adoption of the important question at UNGA, but we really didn't lobby it hard enough at all to gather our diplomatic assets to defeat this ridiculous resolution, which caused all the problems down the road until this day. Most importantly, we didn't use our permanent membership at the UN Security Council to stop [inaudible] when we had the chance in the last six, seven years, the US government were basically constantly dressings what we did wrong 30, 40, 50 years ago. And so this is a time of reckoning. So this is one of the things that [inaudible] of the mess. I'm glad that this effort actually is bipartisan.

Philip Hegseth:

Yeah, right. What does this allow Taiwan to do now? Does allow it to represent itself internationally, or?

Miles Yu:

Because China uses permanent membership at the Security Council to block any effort by Taiwanese government and people to be represented even in the non-sovereign institutions such as the World Health Organization. This is ridiculous. This is one of the reasons why the United States should stand up for justice and to basically help Taiwanese people and the leader in all the high tech innovations. And we have to really, really help the Taiwanese to regain its international representation. Now, not at the expense of the PRC representation, but in conjunction with it, both people inside China and both people inside Taiwan should be represented equally as an equal member of the international community. So the days of Cold War for the dichotomy of who represented China, either Taiwan or Beijing, it's gone. So we have to face reality to really make the world a more just environment.

Philip Hegseth:

Alright, well this all leads well into our topic of the day, which was the face-to-face diplomatic sparring between the US and the PRC at the Shangri-La Law Dialogue. Last week in Singapore, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and China's defense minister Don Jun met in person and expressed their differences over Taiwan with the US citing continued PLA incursions and aggressive actions around the strait. Was this an important meeting with actual progress, Miles, or was it more symbolic to show that amongst all the differences, we're still willing to keep communication lines open with the PRC on military matters? Is this more just engagement or is this different?

Miles Yu:

Shangri-La basically is kumbaya meeting of no substance normally. But this year is very different because there are several very significant things that happen. Number one, the Chinese delegation made it fool of itself and it really shows beyond any doubt to the world what kind of bully China really is. It is basically a source of all the instabilities in the South China, in Taiwan Strait. It bullies the Philippines. It bullied the Taiwanese, it challenged the United States, it’s violating international law. Yet the Chinese delegation was in full gear at the Shangri-La in Singapore, accusing everybody else as the source of the trouble, particularly against the Philippines. This is ridiculous. So people just absolutely were appalled. The Chinese government were so used to listening to itself talking, never understands how ridiculous they really look. So this basically is one way for them to show how bad they are, and it's really educational actually. Secondly, one of the really interesting thing is that Mr. War hero Zelensky showed up.

Zelensky represents a global coalition against aggression. He's the darling of the world. He showed up, he connected the dots. Ukraine, China, Asia, Russia, China. So that was very significant. He basically accused China, not as strong as I’d like, that had been a puppet of Vladimir Putin. And he went to Shangri-La, tried to sort of expose to the world that China is actively working, persuading many other countries in Africa, in Asia and Latin America, in Europe, from attending the upcoming peace talk in Switzerland about the war in Ukraine. So he thought China was basically the acting on behalf of Vladimir Putin, who was a war criminal wanted by the international court. And what really, really interesting is that after that, Mr. Zelensky paid visit to Manila to Philippines, the flashpoint country between China and the rest of the world. So move itself is very, very telling to me.

So Shangri-La is normally a show of no substance, but turned out to be very meaningful because once again, it shows the world that the ultimate source of global instability and the crisis of war come from China and Russia. China acts like a godfather. And China is powerful. China's economy is more than 10 times bigger than Russia's. China’s military capabilities is far ahead of Russia. So Russia, Iran, North Korea, they're all China's proxies. So that's why Shangri-La was held in Asia. Asia right now should really be the focus of global security crisis. And Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin showed up and he made that point. And when the Chinese delegation accused NATO as the reason for Vladimir Putin's aggression into Ukraine, and Secretary Austin said, no, you got it totally wrong. It was Vladimir Putin who started the war, has nothing to do with NATO.

Philip Hegseth:

So that wraps it up for us. We will see you next week. Miles. Thank you.

Miles Yu:

Thank you, Phil, and looking forward to working with you again. Again, you are always the hero behind the scenes. You are the executive producer. I really appreciate your effort.

Philip Hegseth:

Happy to help anytime.

Miles Yu:

Thank you for listening to this episode of China Insider. I'd like to thank my colleague Shane Leary, for taking part in this undertaking every week. I'd also like to thank our executive producer, Philip Hegseth, who works tirelessly and professionally behind the scenes for every episode. To make sure we deliver the best quality podcast to you, the listeners, if you enjoy the show, please spread the word for Chinese listeners. Please check our monthly review and analysis episode in Chinese. We'll see you next time.