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The Rift that Began in Tiananmen Square

When Deng Xiaoping met with Mikhail Gorbachev in May 1989, neither communist leader could have predicted that the events simultaneously transpiring in Tiananmen Square would ricochet around the world -- all the way to the Berlin Wall.

The world changed in 1989.

At the start of the year, the globe's strategic map looked much like it had since the end of World War II. Communist leaders in China and the Soviet Union held power. Their American counterparts, skeptical of recent calls for change throughout the communist world, prepared for a reinvigorated Cold War of unknown duration and ferocity. Meanwhile, Europe prepared for another year divided along fault lines imposed by conquering armies nearly a half-century before.

A year later, communism would be dead in Eastern Europe and dying in the Soviet Union itself. China would be once more in the grip of hard-liners wary of reform, and once more on the precipice of isolation. Washington would be looking to capitalize on its Cold War victory. Europe would soon be rejoined. The future -- our 21st-century present -- would be at hand. And no one had seen it coming, least of all perhaps China, where the first of 1989's cracks in communism would begin.

Following decades of enforced deprivation, justified by the quest for ideological purity, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and his ruling cadre sought to change their country, but without simultaneously losing the communal zeal and nationalism that had largely defined China since its 1949 revolution. More immediately, they sought some means of managing the social and political transformation sure to result from their economic reforms, believing only strict government control could ensure that the mayhem and violence of China's recent past did not reappear.

In March 1989, dismayed by the growing power of reform movements throughout the Soviet-dominated half of the communist world, Chinese Communist Party officials met to discuss "the unrest in Eastern Europe," concluding that "every effort should be made to prevent changes in Eastern Europe from influencing China's internal development." What was undermining communist rule abroad, they worried, might infect their own country. In 1989, they proved right to worry.

By April, Chinese masses were demanding change to a degree unseen in a generation. Students began to march in favor of reform. Others quickly followed their lead. From the hinterland, protesters surged into the city. While Chinese officials debated, the crowds continued to grow in size and enthusiasm. By May 15, more than 500,000 people filled Tiananmen Square. Just two days later they would number more than a million.

When Deng saw protesters filling the very central square of his capital promising that "turmoil was imminent," he knew it was time to act. The government's official mouthpiece, the Renmin Ribao (People's Daily), had in late April castigated the protesters. The editorial, derived from Deng's own words, read: "Under the banner of democracy," the protesters "were trying to destroy the democratic legal system. ... This was a planned conspiracy, a riot, whose real nature was to fundamentally negate the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and to negate the socialist system." According to Deng, they were stirring forces that they could not hope to control and that could not therefore be tolerated.

But on the morning of May 16, Deng arrived in high spirits at the Great Hall of the People, located at Tiananmen Square. He was there to meet Mikhail Gorbachev, the first head of the Soviet Union to visit China in 30 years.

The meeting went well. While defending Beijing's stand in the Chinese-Soviet split, Deng acknowledged that, like Moscow, Beijing also "had made some mistakes" in the Chinese-Soviet polemic leading to the split. The thrust of Deng's presentation, though, was not about the past but about the present and the future. Gorbachev seemed to echo Deng's opinion, saying that the Soviets were very pleased to see that a new and promising phase in relations between the two parties and countries. Their strategic consensus to enhance Sino-Soviet relations, would strengthen both countries' positions in managing domestic challenges, while also enhancing their positions in international affairs. Furthermore, the session also meant that for the first time since the late 1950s and early 1960s, the international communist movement would not be burdened by the animosity and mutual exclusion of two of its most important members.

But the 1989 envisioned by Deng and Gorbachev was not to be. Four days after the Deng-Gorbachev summit, the Chinese Communist Party's leadership, headed by Deng, responded to the hundreds of students holding a collective hunger strike by imposing martial law in Beijing. When the student protest persisted, force was employed to crush it. On June 4, People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers fought their way into Tiananmen Square, leading to an unknown number of civilian deaths.

The events of Tiananmen Square shocked the whole world. Ironically, it was the rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow that exposed the crackdown to a global audience, as hundreds of journalists and cameramen who reported on Gorbachev's visit stayed to cover the students' demonstrations. They showed, often on live television, how bloody violence was used. The scene of one young man standing alone in front of the PLA's tanks was broadcast repeatedly, often moving the global audience to tears. This was a defining moment in 20th-century history, a moment that would begin to slowly drain international Communism of any moral strength that it once might have possessed. It was the beginning of the end.

The effects of the Tiananmen tragedy ricocheted throughout the entire communist bloc, especially in the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe. In Moscow, Gorbachev, in spite of his disapproval of the CCP leadership's behavior, tried to avoid criticizing Beijing directly (though the impact of the Tiananmen crackdown indirectly restricted his ability to influence and control developments in the Soviet Union, and he was even less willing and likely to resort to force in dealing with activities related to the disintegration of the Soviet Union).

In almost every East European country, the pro-democracy movements grew rapidly in the following summer and fall of 1989. These opposition movements took the opportunity of international Communism's deepened legitimacy crisis to wage new offensives against the Communist authorities in their own countries. The Communist leaderships were all facing difficult dilemmas -- they could neither afford to take a totally defensive attitude toward the pro-democracy movements nor dare resort to violent means.

During the following summer and fall, Eastern Europe experienced great unrest, eroding the political foundation and undermining legitimacy of every Communist regime there, culminating on Nov. 9 and 10, 1989. In Germany, the uprising masses brought down the Berlin Wall and with it the symbolic divide between the East and the West. By December -- with the execution of Romania's Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu -- the communist bloc in East Europe had virtually collapsed.

Somehow, the Chinese Communist regime survived the shock waves of 1989. After a three-year period of stagnation, Deng used a dramatic tour of southern China in the spring of 1992 to regenerate the "reform and opening-up" project, initiated by Deng and the CCP leadership in the late 1970s. What has followed, as is well known today, is China's rapid economic growth -- despite continuous stagnation in the country's political democratization -- in the last decade of the 20th century and entering the 21st century.

Twenty years after the Tiananmen tragedy and the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have gained some perspective on those events, their causes, and their immediate consequences. Still, China's story in 1989 -- how China shaped the specific course of that year's events and helped define the immediate aftermath -- remains full of questions. In China itself, 1989 has been a "forbidden zone" in the press, scholarship, and classroom teaching. After 20 years, it remains inconceivable for scholars to access Chinese archival sources and many other key documents related to 1989.

The impact of this fateful year continues to play a role in defining the trajectory of China's development. The Chinese experience of 1989, and the Tiananmen tragedy in particular, remains a knot that must be untied and a barrier that must be removed in China's continuous advance toward modernity. Without doing so, the legitimacy narrative of the Chinese "communist" state will always be burdened by its fundamental inability to justify itself.

CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images

Feature

All for One?

The Lisbon Treaty creates an EU president, sure. But it's the new foreign policy czar who might really change the world.

Something that might augur a truly titanic shift in foreign affairs happened this week. It involves possibly sweeping foreign-policy changes in two of the world's five official nuclear states. It promises to alter the Middle East peace process, negotiations with Iran, and policies regarding Russian missile defense. It will likely necessitate scores of new embassies. It directly affects 500 million people and indirectly affects the rest of the world.

On Tuesday, Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, grumblingly signed the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. His was the last signature needed to ratify the agreement, which streamlines Brussels's byzantine and slow-moving policymaking process and creates two leadership roles, an elected president with a 30-month term and a high representative for foreign policy.

Most focus has centered on the former position, whose precise responsibilities and powers EU leaders plan to hash out at a Nov. 11 summit. (The treaty comes into formal effect in December, and the new president is expected to take office on New Year's Day.) The somewhat sexy idea of a European president has led to wild speculation as to who might fill it, with dozens of potential candidates mentioned, most often the silver-tongued and internationally renowned Tony Blair and the barely known center-right Dutch leader Jan Peter Balkenende.

But it's actually the latter gig that has the most potential to transform how Brussels works and how Europe relates to the world. The president is likely to be just a figurehead rather than any kind of revolutionary leader. Just this week, a joint statement from the leaders of Denmark, Finland, and Ireland stressed that the president should be a "chairman," not a "chief." The characteristic most often cited as necessary is "consensus-building." For the eight years that the Lisbon Treaty and its prior incarnations have wended their way through various EU and European institutions, the concern has always been that the president might have too much authority, not too little.

The foreign-policy position and other structural changes built around it, on the other hand, are certain to bring real change. The point of the new role is to create a single, strong negotiator for the European Union. Currently, control over European foreign and defense policy is split between many people and institutions. NATO takes care of continental security, though each country is ultimately responsible for its own. Brussels deploys troops on peacekeeping missions, but doesn't keep its own army. The European Union does have common policies and a high representative for them -- currently, Secretary-General Javier Solana -- but it requires all 27 members to agree before action, a somewhat rare occurrence. As a result, European foreign policy and diplomacy is disaggregated and as diverse as Europe itself, a mishmash of foreign ministers, prime ministers, presidents, European council figures, and EU representatives.

This fracturing ensures that each country represents its own sovereign interests -- important, given Europe's diversity and the introversion of its foreign policy, which often consists of neighbors arguing among themselves. But many have lamented that Europe has no single, strong voice on the global stage -- increasingly dominated by the heavyweights China and the United States -- even despite Europe's economic heft, large population, and consensus on many issues.

Susanne Nies, a director of the French Institute of International Relations, told the Los Angeles Times, "The EU has kind of been ignored, kind of scorned by foreign powers despite its impressive wealth" because it "was not always clear who you were dealing with." Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once famously asked, "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?" -- and it's a tough question to answer.

The Lisbon Treaty does much to centralize Europe's foreign-policy power under the high representative, combining the authority held by Solana (who primarily handles relations between the European Union, national governments, and international bodies) and the external relations commissioner (who controls the budget and the bureaucracy). The new mandate is broad and deep, with the foreign-policy czar doing everything from chairing meetings of member-country ministers to controlling the European intelligence-sharing unit, the Situation Center. "It gives that person a sway and a ... regularization of power," says Charles Kupchan, a Europe expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and Georgetown University.

Most importantly, the high representative will control an entirely new foreign service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), proposing the budget and holding oversight over staffing. The EEAS will comprise thousands of analysts and diplomats from member countries and various EU bodies, creating policies to be voted upon by member-countries. The 125 European Commission representative offices will become EU embassies, with ambassadors appointed by Brussels. The EEAS will also control the EU missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Georgia, and elsewhere.

The tasks -- from intelligence sharing to peacekeeping to diplomatic negotiations -- aren't new. The revolutionary aspect of Lisbon is to ensure that they happen under a single roof, making the goal of a unified EU foreign policy (if not a monolithic one) more of a reality. The potential policy footprints for the EEAS and the high representative are, simply, enormous, far beyond the scope of any other single EU figure or agency at the moment. And big names are already being mentioned for the role, most often David Miliband, the British foreign minister.

Questions remain about how it will work, and the new high representative and foreign service aren't due to come into full effect until 2012. Two groups in particular might pose strong opposition to the proposals under consideration: small countries fearful of ceding sovereignty and big countries with strong foreign ministers, like Germany, fearful of ceding power. "Small countries are likely to feel completely overshadowed -- partly because they already do," Kupchan says. On the other side, he asks, "How willing are the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Britain to take a back seat to the so-called high representative in Brussels?"

Although such considerations might mean a diminution or dilution of the Lisbon Treaty's bold changes, the major structural transformation is sure to take place, and that structural transformation suggests a major change in how Europe engages with the world. At least as proposed, it seems that come 2012 a single agency will write and mediate the European Union's foreign policy and a single figure will be the primary negotiator of its interests abroad -- meaning, too, that a single person will pick up the phone when would-be Kissingers decide to call.

"This is not a geopolitical earthquake," Kupchan notes. "On the other hand, it is precisely these kinds of institutional changes that, in the long run, change the world."

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images