2.7 Tiananmen Square Incident & End of Cold War under Bush Senior & Zhao-Jiang (1989 - 1993)
1 January 2017
Protests amid Rising Corruption and Nepotism
As earlier mentioned, the results of Deng’s reforms and opening up of the Chinese economy were spectacular. As FDI flowed in and productivity rose in the collectives, private enterprises, foreign-invested enterprises and state-owned enterprises, gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an average rate of over 9 percent annually throughout the 1980s.
However, the ill-effects of the rapid pace of reforms also began to surface by the second half of the 1980s. The administering a two-price system, for example, opened many avenues for corruption and nepotism. The fact that a shrinking but still very large public sector and a growing market economy coexisted with two sets of prices meant that unscrupulous bureaucrats and entrepreneurs could shift commodities back and forth between the two sectors for personal gain. Some of the profits in the private sector in China were thus the result of widespread graft and nepotism.
Moreover, the implementation of power-delegating and profit-sharing was not accompanied by establishment of effective control measures, leading to insider control and softening of budget constraints over the SOEs. The poor financial performance of the SOEs also contributed to a persistently huge fiscal deficit which in turn created inflationary pressure. While fiscal revenue collected from the SOEs stagnated, fiscal expenditure rose. Furthermore, the coexistent of the state and non-state sectors made macroeconomic control of the economy tedious and complex. Monetary authorities, for example, found it hard to achieve monetary policy goals in order to maintain macroeconomic stability. Inflation hit 9.3% in 1985 then recovered in 1986 and 1987 before rising rapidly to an alarming 18.8% in 1988 and 18.0% in 1989. Meanwhile, the reappearance of phenomena eradicated during the Mao years—income disparities, colorful and even provocative clothing, and an open celebration of “luxury” items—led to debate over whether China was fulfilling its destiny or compromising its moral essence.
To give citizens more latitude to speak their minds, Deng laid down “Four Cardinal Principles” of upholding the Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thoughts, the socialist road, the people’s democratic dictatorship, and the supremacy of the CCP. The implication was that these four topics could not be questioned, but political ideas other than those in the list could be debated. Deng’s four cardinal principles thus marked a relaxation of control over ideology. Notably, the people's democratic dictatorship (人民民主专政) is a phrase incorporated into the PRC’s Constitution by Mao stating that the CPC and state represent and act on behalf of the people. The word ‘democracy here thus refers to socialist democracy which does not bear any resemblance to Western democracy and its institutions.
Meanwhile, amid the rising inflation, widespread corruption and nepotism, and ideological debates, protests became more commonplace. In December 1986, student demonstrations broke out in response to criticisms by Chinese intellectuals Fang Lizhi and Wang Ruowang of the Chinese government’s lack of political reforms. Originating first in Hefie, the protests spread to other cities including Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, and Nanjing by mid-January 1987. On 30 December 1986, Deng called a meeting at his home and blamed Hu, the General Secretary since 1981, for indecisiveness in the face of student demonstrations. The deeply dispirited Hu resigned two days later in early January. He was replaced by Zhao but remained a member of the ruling Politburo.
The Passing of Hu and Tiananmen Square Incident
During a Politburo meeting on April 8, 1989, the seventy three-year-old Hu suffered a heart attack. He was revived and rushed to the hospital where he suffered another heart attack and died on April 15. Hu was regarded by many as the soul of the nation and an honest communist. He was particularly beloved by intellectuals, who believed he had suffered undeservedly from having supported the students in late 1986. Many of Hu’s admirers soon gathered in Tiananmen Square singing praises of the former General Secretary’s dedication to political liberalization and calling for his spirit to live on in further reforms. Students in Beijing and other cities took the opportunity to voice their frustration with corruption, inflation, press restrictions, university conditions, and the persistence of Party “elders” ruling informally behind the scenes. Before the government realized it, what had started as mourning for a fallen leader evolved into an occupation of the Tiananmen Square challenging the authority of the government. The impending state visit by the reform-minded Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s on May 15 further invigorated the protests. Meanwhile, students in Tiananmen Square declared a hunger strike and other nonstudent groups began to also join the protesters. The crowds in the Square grew beyond students to include a broad segment of Chinese society, from workers to ordinary citizens from Beijing and beyond
On May 19, Zhao visited the protesters once more to make an emotional appeal for hunger strikes to end. On May 20, the Chinese leadership imposed martial law on the Beijing Municipality and appeared to be moving toward the use of force to clear the square. By June, anti-government protests had spread nationwide to 341 cities with protesters taking over trains and schools. For Deng, the protests stirred memories and fear of the pandemonium of the Cultural Revolution. He saw it not as an ordinary student movement but a rebellion by people who had been influenced by the liberal elements of Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union and whose objective was to overthrow the leadership of the Communist Party. Preemptive measures had to be adopted quickly to stop the unrest caused by the “bourgeois liberalism”.
After weeks of internal debates amid serious divisions over the use of force, Deng and a majority of the Politburo ordered the PLA to clear Tiananmen Square. The General Secretary of the Communist Party, Zhao Ziyang, was also dismissed for publicly disagreeing with Deng’s assessment of the movement and for being sympathetic to the cause of the protesting students. On June 4, the PLA moved in with tanks rolling and the bloody suppression was captured and broadcasted by media that had come from all over the world to record the momentous meeting between Gorbachev and the Chinese leadership. The official estimates, according to Premier Li Peng, put the death toll at 310 including 36 Beijing students and PLA soldiers. Other sources estimated that between 220 and 3,000 people died in Beijing from June 3 to June 6, though the exact number may never be known.
Sino-US Relations after Tiananmen Incident
Needless to say, the international reaction to the bloody suppression was stark. The United States, Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden all issued statements deploring the shooting of hundreds of demonstrators by the Chinese Army. Up to 200,000 people joined demonstrations in Hong Kong, where fears have run high in anticipation of the transition to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. As many as 150,000 people - a quarter of the population - were involved in protests in the Portuguese colony of Macao, and 10,000 more rallied in Taipei. In the US, thousands of Chinese students and Chinese Americans took to the streets in protest in cities including New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans and other cities.
At the same time, the entire Sino-US relationship came under attack from across a wide political spectrum. Critics converged on the need for sanctions to pressure Beijing to alter its domestic institutions and encourage human rights practices. Even before the crisis erupted, many, including those in the Congress, had begun to question whether the strategic underpinnings of the U.S.-China relationship were still relevant. Soviet Union, under Gorbachev, was steadily moderating its international behaviour and consciously improving its relations with both the US and China. The improving East-West relations thus markedly undermined the importance of the US-China strategic partnership, making it increasingly difficult to gloss over China's shoddy human rights record.
President George H. W. Bush (served 1989 – 1992), in contrast, argued that constructive US-China ties over the past several decades had helped to reduce tensions in Asia, contributed greatly to regional stability, and helped defuse conflicts in critical areas, principally the peace across the Taiwan Strait. He remembered how he, as the US liaison officer in Beijing in 1974-1976, had worked to preserve the relationship with China against the machinations of the Gang of Four. He knew that, by virtue of its size, geographic position, historic role, and dimensions of its military, China's centrality in Asia must be an overriding factor as Washington formulates Asia policy. Because of its anti-imperialism and anti-hegemony credentials, China was also important an important ally that could help to galvanize the developing countries into the anti-Soviet alliance. Moreover, Bush and his National Security Advisor, General Brent Scowcroft, also admired Deng’s ground-breaking economic reforms.
Above all, Bush believed that the leaders who had been on the Long March, survived in the caves of Yan’an, and confronted both the US and the Soviet Union simultaneously in the 1960s were impervious to foreign pressures or the threat of isolation. The US thus had limited leverage over the events in Beijing, much less a desired political outcome. In the end, American sanctions would not materially help those people America had hoped to help. If Washington chose not to renew China's Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) trade status, for example, American consumers and importers would have to pay more for popular Chinese-made products while American exporters would likely lose the Chinese markets.
After balancing the need for imposing sanctions to express US moral outrage against any potential benefits of sanction measures, the Bush administration announced on June 5 the imposition of a package of sanctions on China, to include suspension of all government-to-government sales and commercial exports of weapons and the suspension of all visits of high-level officials between the two countries." US leaders also met with Chinese nationals studying in the United States as a symbolic gesture of commitment. Many members of the US Congress, the American public, and international leaders advocated broader economic sanctions. On June 28, for example, the House of Representatives had voted to impose stiffer sanctions on China by a vote of 418 – 0. In particular, questions relating to the granting of Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) trading status continued to bug Bush for the remainder of his term and well into the term of President Bill Clinton. Finally, at the insistence of its dominant shareholder the US, the World Bank also blocked loans to China. Only loans for helping China to meet ‘basic human needs’ were approved. Total amount of loans disbursed to China shrank from more than $2 billion a year before the Tiananmen Square incident to only $650 million after June 1989.
Despite the imposition of the sanctions, Bush was careful not to jeopardize the relationship with China. On June 20 1989, after his attempt to call Deng Xiaoping directly failed, he hand-crafted a letter explaining why he as the leader of the free world had to act against the Chinese government’s bloody suppression of the students’ protest. Deng Xiaoping responded to the letter the next day, welcoming an American envoy to Beijing. Bush despatched the Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, on a secret trip to China on June 30 to assure Deng that he would resist pressures by both public opinion and elements in the US Congress demanding for legislation to end many aspects of the two countries’ economic, military and political relationship.
At the meeting, Deng expressed his appreciation and trust of President Bush but placed the blame for the strain in relations on the US. He pointed out “since the outset of these events more than two months ago that the various aspects of US foreign policy have actually cornered China” and that “this could even lead to war”. He further argued that the cause of the differences between the two countries was not because China had offended or impinged upon US interests. Rather, it was the US which on a large scale had impinged upon Chinese interests and had injured Chinese dignity. He promised to persist in punishing those instigators of the rebellion and the behind-the-scenes boss in accordance with Chinese laws and would never allow outsiders to interfere in their internal affairs, no matter what the consequences.
Declaring that China is not scared by the sanctions, Deng asserted that Americans must understand history:
[W]e have won the victory represented by the founding of the People’s Republic of China by fighting a twenty-two year war with the cost of more than twenty million lives, a war fought by the Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party. . . . There is no force whatsoever that can substitute for the People’s Republic of China represented by the Communist Party of China. This is not an empty word. It is something which has been proven and tested over several decades of experience.
Finally, Premier Li Peng, who was also present at the meeting, stressed the restraint showed by the Chinese government, pointing out that the Chinese leaders had not acted until 48 days of turmoil, from April 15 to June 3.
As Kissinger put it, “The difficulty was that both sides were right. Deng felt his regime under siege; Bush and Scowcroft considered America’s deepest values challenged.”
China’s propensity to the use of force showed that the key and sole determinant for state actions now was the national interests (i.e. economic developments). Deng wanted to maintain political and economic stability not only to protect the gains from economic reforms but also to push ahead with reform, at all costs. To Deng, it was simply a calculation of suppressing the movement by a minority of Chinese, whom he thought was instigated by foreign influence, for the benefits of the majority. Had the government not acted, China could have plunged into disorder and because China has one fifth of the world’s population, instability in China would cause instability in the world. Deng thus saw China’s efforts to maintain domestic stability as a valuable contribution to the international order. Chinese leaders therefore could not understand why the US took umbrage at an event that had injured no American material interests or, for that matter, the interests of anyone outside China.
Moreover, in the Chinese view, gone were the days when state to state relations were handled on the basis of social systems. International relations should be determined by national interest and the national purpose. Countries with different social systems could still have friendly relations as long as there was congruency in national interests, as exemplified by Nixon’s rapprochement initiative with China. Millions died in China under Mao during his Great Leap Forward campaign. When Nixon made his historic visit in 1972, China was experiencing upheavals because of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. That did not stop Nixon and Kissinger from establishing relations with China. Following that, Ford, Carter, and Reagan all worked to maintain relations with China. In short, past US actions showed that China’s domestic structures were irrelevant to the process of normalization between the two countries. It thus did not make sense for Americans to insist now that the US-styled democratic institutions were preconditions for compatibility of national interests between the two countries.
Bush and the few who had dealt closely with China understood that because they had seen how far China had come because of Deng’s efforts. To many Americans, however, China's use of force to suppress the students’ yearning for democratic reforms made China no more the “good communists” it once was. This is especially so when even the “evil empire” Soviet Union was undergoing liberal political reforms under Gorbachev. Bush’s elaborate efforts to maintain the good relation were even criticized by some as “kowtows” to the Chinese leaders.
The Tiananmen Square incident thus heralded a new phase of Sino-US relations in which human rights was set to be an increasingly thorny issue. The shift in attitude of the US was driven not just by the bloody suppression but also by the moderation of Soviet threat as a result of Gorbachev’s efforts to improve relations with the US, which made the Sino-US anti-Soviet alliance less critical in the mind of many American policymakers.
Deng Proposing a New Concept of International Order
Obviously, the clash in fundamental values underpinning their respective social and political systems cannot be easily, or if possible at all, resolved by diplomacy. To move forward, Deng suggested, in a meeting with Kissinger in November 1987, to develop a new concept of international order underpinned by a general principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs, which incidentally is one of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence (和平共处五项原则) first propounded by the former Chinese premier Zhou in 1954.
In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square incident, the living symbol of the divide between the US and China was the Chinese dissident physicist Fang Lizhi (方励之) who, together with his wife, had sought refuge at the American Embassy after the June 4 crackdown.
As an eloquent proponent of western democracy, Fang had a long history of testing the political boundaries of official tolerance. Because of his essay criticizing political interference in scientific research, Fang was expelled from the Communist Party in 1957 as part of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, a movement against intellectuals and others who were seen to have strayed from Communist principles. Despite so, he continued to rise in academia because he was considered too valuable to allow party censure to affect his work. But when the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, he was again persecuted, first imprisoned and then sent to rural Anhui Province to work with peasants. Fang was rehabilitated in 1976 after Mao’s death. As a successful academic, he continued to espouse increased political liberalization. In 1987, he was expelled again and stripped of his job for helping to organize pro-reform student demonstrations in cities across China, a movement which led eventually to the downfall of Hu Yaobang, whose death in 1989 triggered the Tiananmen Square incident.
In January 1989, Fang published an open letter to China’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, calling for the release of human right activist Wei Jingsheng (魏京生) who was then in prison. Though Fang and his wife did not personally participate in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, the Chinese government put Fang and Li at the top of the "wanted" list of the people involved in the protest. Fearing reprisal, they sought and were granted asylum at the American Embassy. According to Ambassador James Lilley, their presence at the American Embassy became "a living symbol of our [US] conflict with China over human rights". In June 1990, after secret negotiations between the two governments, Chinese leaders allowed Fang and his family to leave China for medical treatment. He later became a professor of physics at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he taught and continued to speak out on human rights until his death in April 2012.
End of Cold War & Dissolution of Soviet Union
Just as the US and China were struggling to keep relations on even keel, upheavals in Eastern Europe added further complications to the Sino-US relations. After his inauguration in January 1989, Bush ordered a strategic policy re-evaluation in order to establish his own plan and methods for dealing with the Soviet Union and arms control. Upon completion of the review, Bush met with Gorbachev at Malta in early December 1989. By then, Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or freedom of speech, and decision to loosen the Soviet repression on the countries of Eastern Europe inspired an independent, democratic momentum which led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.
As it became clear that Gorbachev had abandoned the policy of military intervention in support of communist regimes (the Brezhnev Doctrine), the fears of a Soviet reaction receded and the dominoes started falling at a quickened pace. In addition to the reunification of the two Germanies, the fall of the wall was soon followed by the peaceful democratization of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. Only in Romania did the events turn violent because of Nicolae Ceausescu’s refusal to carry out any reforms. He and his wife were executed on December 25, 1990.
Back home, Gorbachev’s decision to allow elections with a multi-party system and create a presidency for the Soviet Union had set in motion a slow process of democratization. Following the May 1990 elections, Gorbachev faced conflicting internal political pressures: Boris Yeltsin and the pluralist movement advocated democratization and rapid economic reforms while the hard-line Communist elite wanted to thwart Gorbachev’s reform agenda. Meanwhile, after the demise of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and the Caucasus demanded independence from Moscow. By January 1991, violence erupted in Lithuania and Latvia. Soviet tanks intervened to halt the democratic uprisings, a move that Bush resolutely condemned.
The unsuccessful August 1991 coup against Gorbachev sealed the fate of the Soviet Union. Planned by hard-line Communists, the coup diminished Gorbachev’s power and propelled Yeltsin and the democratic forces to the forefront of Soviet and Russian politics. Bush publicly condemned the coup as “extra-constitutional,” but Gorbachev’s weakened position became obvious to all. He resigned his leadership as head of the Communist party shortly thereafter—separating the power of the party from that of the presidency of the Soviet Union. A few days after the coup, Ukraine and Belarus declared their independence from the Soviet Union. The Baltic States, which had earlier declared their independence, sought international recognition. The Soviet government officially recognised the independence of all three Baltic states on 6 September 1991.
On September 4, 1991, Secretary of State James Baker articulated five basic principles that would guide U.S. policy toward the emerging republics: self-determination consistent with democratic principles, recognition of existing borders, support for democracy and rule of law, preservation of human rights and rights of national minorities, and respect for international law and obligations. The basic message was clear—if the new republics could follow these principles, they could expect cooperation and assistance from the United States.
By early December, Yeltsin and the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus met in Brest to form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), effectively declaring the demise of the Soviet Union. Finally, on December 25, 1991, as the world watched in amazement, the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. Earlier in the day, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his post as president of the Soviet Union, leaving Boris Yeltsin as president of the newly independent Russian state.
Impacts of Collapse of Soviet Union on Sino-US Relations
The collapse of Soviet Union was hailed by the west as a triumph of democracy and capitalism, which US was the flag-bearer, over totalitarianism and socialism, which Americans saw stood China for. The breakup of the Soviet Union shattered the premises of the Cold War and transformed the entire world geopolitical situation, leading to a complete reformulation of political, economic and military alliances across the globe. For China, it means the invalidation of the premises underpinning its existing triangular relationship with the US and the now disintegrated Soviet Union.
Earlier on, the bloody overthrow of Romania’s Communist leader, Nicolae Ceauşescu had already bolstered the sense of siege in the Chinese Communist Party. Now, the disintegration of the Eastern European Communist states by the end of 1990 and the disintegration of Soviet Union in December 1991 further strengthened the hand of those in Washington who argued that the United States should wait for what they saw as the seemingly inevitable collapse of the Beijing government.
The shifting power dynamics was manifested most vividly in the annual reauthorization of China’s Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status. Almost all US trading partners enjoy MFN status, which simply means a country's products, when exported to America, are entitled to US tariffs as low as any other nation's. With MFN status, the top 25 categories of US imports from China were taxed at an average rate of 8.35%. Under non-MFN status, the average tariff would jump to 47.48%, thus making many Chinese products uncompetitive in the US market relative to the exports of other countries enjoying MFN-status. In 1990, goods sold to American market were estimated to be about US$14 billion or a quarter of China’s total exports. Since over two-thirds of these exports were price-sensitive labour-intensive manufactures, the loss of MFN status could reduce China’s exports to the US by as much as 70% or US$9.8 billion. However, since most of these exports would be from low value add processing/assembling operations from which China earns only about 20% of the export value, net loss of foreign exchange earnings would only be around US$2.0 billion.
China was first awarded MFN in 1979, during the Jimmy Carter Administration. But under the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 trade act, which governed U.S. trade relations with communist countries, the president had to review and renew that status annually, and the renewal was subject to rejection by Congress. For China, the annual review did not become controversial until the Tiananmen Square incident when the annual reauthorization process was transformed into a forum for congressional condemnation of China’s human rights record. The underlying assumption of the debate was that trade privileges should thus be predicated on China’s moving toward an American conception of human rights and political liberties.
Twice in 1992, Congress passed legislation conditioning future MFN renewals on improvements by China in human rights and weapons proliferation, but Bush vetoed both bills. To begin with, withdrawal of MFN would abrogate the 1979 US-China Agreement on Trade Relations which states, among other things, that both parties should grant each other MFN treatment. Bush also argued that his approach toward China was intended to promote the spread of democracy by remaining economically and politically engaged with the Chinese leadership. Supporters of Bush’s engagement approach reasoned that China's leaders are prepared to lose MFN rather than yield to foreign pressure in ways that threaten their own grasp on power. Some observers also asserted that damaged trade ties with the United States would actually strengthen the position of hard-liners by enabling them to blame future economic difficulties on this U.S. action.
Many Democrats and some Republicans, however, disputed the president's contention that China could be induced by trade and other contacts to make accommodations on human rights as well as other issues like weapons proliferation and religious freedom. Keenly aware of the growing political opposition, Bush presented his policy on China as a measured mixture of engagement and sanctions to lessen the political effect of his decision. In 1991, for example, he ordered additional measures to limit the export of high-speed computers that can be used for missile flight testing while also restricting the flow of ballistic missile and nuclear technology to China.
Deng, who already senses the tough time ahead in the aftermath of the bloody suppression, circulated a stark warning to Party members in 1990 that, given the changes in the international situation, the enemy (the US) would focus all their attention on China to cause trouble and to create difficulties and pressures using every pretext. He thus foresaw that the next three to five years would be extremely difficult for the CCP and for China. To survive the challenges, China needed “stability, stability, and still more stability”.
Reintegration with International Community by Jiang Zemin
True to his words, Deng gradually withdrew from high office and stopped attending public functions starting in early 1990. The decision to retire could have been accelerated by the Tiananmen incident. Deng wanted to make sure he could oversee the transition while a new leader was establishing himself.
The new Secretary General appointed to take over Zhao Ziyang was Jiang Zemin who was the Mayor and the Party Secretary in Shanghai before his promotion to the top post. He was selected for his quelling of the demonstrations in Shanghai without bloodshed. In his new job, he was assisted by a skilful Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, and an extraordinarily intelligent and tenacious chief economic policymaker and Vice Premier, Zhu Rongji.
Jiang’s approach to foreign policy was consistent with that of Deng who, despite his retirement, was still wielding tremendous influence from behind the scene. In his meeting with Kissinger in 1990, for example, Jiang reaffirmed Zhou Enlai’s Five Principles of Coexistence (和平共处五项原则) and insisted that China and the US should work together on a new international order within which domestic arrangements were beyond the scope of foreign policy and that China would be treated on equal terms as a great power. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen incident and the dissolution of Soviet Union, however, that proposition had been jettisoned by the West where a new concept was emerging, that democracies were inherently peaceful while autocracies tended toward violence and international terrorism. Promoting regime change was thus considered a legitimate act of foreign policy, not an intervention into domestic affairs.
Jiang’s discourse failed to bring about a normalization of the relations with the US. Together, with the help of Qian and Zhu, the trio set about to engage with a Western world perceived as dismissive of Chinese realities. In August 1990, they were helped by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. China’s participation in the United Nations (UN) negotiations on a response against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait helped it to be reintegrated into the international community thus ending its isolation. For not blocking UN-sanctioned military action against Iraq by a coalition of US-led allies, China was also rewarded with the removal of almost all sanctions imposed against it after the Tiananmen Incident.
However, even though China backed all UN resolutions against Iraq, it has adhered to a carefully crafted diplomatic stance of neutrality, both condemning Iraq for invading Kuwait and repeatedly calling for peace and for the US to show restraint. The policy was a reflection of government's desire to strike an independent posture, limit US dominance of whatever world order evolves from the war and maintain China's ideological stand as the self-proclaimed leader of the Third World.
As for Deng, before he receded into a life of reclusion, he emerged from retirement one last time to embark on an “inspection tour” through southern China in 1992. In the aftermath of the bloody suppression, reform efforts had stagnated as conservative members of the Politburo blamed Deng for the crisis and pressured Jiang to return to traditional Maoist principles of governance.
Despite the political upheavals, Deng was still driven by his belief that the sole measure of good governance is the improvement of the well-being of the ordinary people. He remained convinced that Western political principles would produce chaos and thwart development and hoped that the success of his program of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” (中国特色社会主义) would in time remove the incentive for democratic evolution. Deng’s “Southern Tour” (南巡) was thus aimed to help Jiang inject new impetus for continued economic liberalization.
Despite not holding any office, Deng’s “Southern Tour” would take on an almost mythical significance, and his speeches would serve as the blueprint for another two decades of Chinese political and economic policy. His famous dictum “Development is the absolute principle” (发展才是硬道理) can still be seen in billboards across China even today.
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