From the Viewsroom

China, authoritarian as ever

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on June 05, 2020 Published on June 05, 2020

Three decades after Tiananmen Square, state power has increased

It was a first in Hong Kong and, more likely than not, a sign of times to come. For 30 years, pro-democracy demonstrators have assembled peacefully June 4 in the city’s Victoria Park for a candlelight vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre. This year, they were told the park gathering wouldn’t be held — but they went ahead anyway, staying carefully socially distanced. The official explanation: fear Covid-19 might spread. Everybody knows the real reason. In mainland China, no commemorative events are allowed and Beijing wants Hong Kong to fall in line. Last year, 180,000 people gathered and with the just passed new Hong Kong national security legislation, protesters could have turned out in far bigger numbers.

Tiananmen Square was a turning point for China from which there’s been no return. The draft Hong Kong national security bill rubber-stamped by China’s National People’s Congress could be another. China’s perfected the art of being an authoritarian state. It’s even disproved those who said censorship wouldn’t be possible in the Internet Age using sophisticated online controls. China was still seen as a poorer country in 1989 but nowadays it’s sufficiently prosperous to believe it can take on the US. It could be coming, though, to an economic crossroads.

The Communist Party’s pact with the people is it will offer perpetual economic betterment in exchange for silence on all matters political. Now, in the wake of the Covid-19 shock, can that pact be honoured? Covid-19 emerged from Wuhan at a time when Trump was already on the warpath against China, slashing trade ties. China’s reply has been to tighten the squeeze on people and project a muscular image to neighbours like India and Taiwan and also to Hong Kong, where it aims to stub out the final embers of free expression. Will China get away with the global tough guy act or is it a fragile and insecure state, perennially worried about its neighbours and the possibility its population might rise against it? The fact remains, though, that as US global influence recedes under Trump, it creates a vacuum China’s only too willing to fill.

Published on June 05, 2020
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