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Surviving Tiananmen

HONG KONG – It may be hard to imagine, but 25 years ago, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was nearly toppled by a nationwide pro-democracy movement. It was the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s steely nerves and the tanks of the People’s Liberation Army – dispatched to enforce martial law and suppress the protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – that enabled the regime, at the cost of several hundred civilian lives, to avoid collapse.

On the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989, two questions stand out: how has the CCP survived the last quarter-century, and can its rule endure for another 25 years?

The answer to the first question is relatively straightforward. Policy adjustments, clever tactics of manipulation, and a healthy dose of luck enabled the CCP to win the support it needed to retain power and suppress destabilizing forces.

To be sure, serious mistakes were made. Following the massacre, China’s conservative leaders attempted to reverse the liberalizing reforms that Deng had initiated in the 1980’s, plunging the Chinese economy into recession. And the Soviet Union’s implosion in 1991 caused a panic in the CCP.