International Forecaster Weekly

The Truth About Tiananmen

When someone is spreading rumors and easily debunkable lies about you, you speak up. You set the record straight. You fight back. You do something . . . don't you?

James Corbett | June 9, 2019

This past week marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing. Naturally, Trump's warmongering Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, jumped at the opportunity to wag his finger at the Chinese government.

In "On the 30th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square," a press statement posted to the State Department's website this past Monday, Pompeo writes that "we honor the heroic protest movement of the Chinese people that ended on June 4, 1989, when the Chinese Communist Party leadership sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to violently repress peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, human rights, and an end to rampant corruption," because as everyone knows the US government respects its citizen's right to peaceful protest.

The post then continues the same old fill-in-the-blanks propaganda screed that Uncle Sam uses whenever he presumes to lecture his enemies on democracy and human rights: "China’s one-party state tolerates no dissent blah blah blah Chinese citizens have been subjected to a new wave of abuses yadda yadda yadda as the party builds a powerful surveillance state etc. etc."

Of course none of this is wrong. But neither is it the full truth. For starters, we know that the US government is no shining beacon of freedom nor defender of human rights. Two-party duopoly? Check. Citizens subjected to waves of abuses? Check. Powerful surveillance state? Check. The hypocrisy is galling.

But perhaps even more galling is that the narrative we've been fed about the Tiananmen Square incident itself isn't true. Or, at least, isn't the whole truth. As we can now confirm from multiple different avenues, the US itself had at least some hand in the events in Beijing in June 1989, and the narrative we've all been fed is an openly acknowledged exaggeration.

The official story of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, dutifully parroted every anniversary by any number of finger-wagging diplomats and TV talking heads, is that it was the culmination of weeks of student-led protests against the Chinese government, and, as the bastion of truthiness tells us, involved "troops with assault rifles and tanks fir[ing] at the demonstrators trying to block the military's advance towards Tiananmen Square." The incident resulted in the deaths of "several hundreds" of the protesters. Or, was it 2,600? Well, the Chinese government refuses to discuss the subject (or even allow it to be discussed in China), so I guess we'll never know.

. . . or will we? It may surprise those who blindly trust whatever they hear on TV that in fact we have had evidence for the past eight years that whatever took place in Tiananmen Square that fateful night 30 years ago was not the wanton massacre we have been led to believe. And this is not from Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces, but from US and Chilean diplomats who witnessed the events themselves. Even James Miles, the BBC's Beijing correspondent at the time, wrote a mea culpa in 2009, admitting that his reporting had "conveyed the wrong impression" and that in fact "[t]here was no massacre on Tiananmen Square."

This is not to say there were no killings that night, or that the Chinese government is run by an innocent group of falsely maligned angels. But the real story about the 1989 democracy movement in China has never filtered down to the broader public. This story—one that includes CIA assistance for the protesters—does not comport with the straightforward narrative of an evil government coldly slaughtering a crowd of unarmed protesters. This story does not provide a convenient way for China's rivals to demonize the country, so it must be sent down the memory hole.

As Andrew Korybko points out in a recent editorial on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square:

"Upon closer examination, the Tiananmen Square events were actually a Color Revolution attempt just like the many others that would later mature elsewhere in the socialist world by later that year, with there being no doubt that the vast majority of the participants in every case were well-intended peaceful participants but that their political movements were exploited by foreign actors for regime change purposes that also included the use of violent provocations like the ones that took place in other parts of Beijing during the military’s intervention. The US succeeded in almost every one of its attempts to overthrow socialist governments from within through this cutting-edge Hybrid War strategy, except of course for China’s, though the very fact that the People’s Republic was targeted at all must have been somewhat surprising to it."

In short, there is nuance to this story. Yes, there were real student protesters in Beijing in 1989 who were really protesting about their real grievances. They were also being infiltrated and provoked by outside forces that had their own agenda in destabilizing the Chinese government. Does that delegitimize the protesters' movement and their grievances? No, of course not. But we have to understand that the narrative of Tiananmen Square—the "Tiananmen Square Massacre" story that is brought up each year on the anniversary and wielded like a bludgeon against the Chinese government—has been weaponized. The diplomats who mouth platitudes about the "heroes of 1989" couldn't care less about the students or their movement. I would happily eat my hat if someone like Pompeo could articulate what the "heroic protest movement" of 1989 was about or even name a single one of the protesters' demands. It is all a transparent cynical ploy.

Having said that, we have to be careful when it comes to a story like this. The temptation is to discover evidence of outside interference (CIA or otherwise) in some protest movement, and then to dismiss the movement and those participating in it as deep state dupes (or even deep state collaborators). As I argued two years ago in my video on "NATO and Anti-NATO: Two Sides of the Same Coin?" we should be careful not to fall into this trap. Just because a protest movement may be aided by shadowy forces for ulterior motives, that does not mean the protest itself is illegitimate. But neither can we stand by while a half-true version of those events is weaponized in geopolitical squabbles.

But there's one more remarkable thing to note about this whole "massacre" narrative: Namely, the Chinese government's stubborn refusal to even address it. There are many specific points of fact that could be raised to at least problematize the official story of Tiananmen Square and expose the hypocrites in the US government and others who pretend to care about students in China (while helping Saudi Arabia murder students in Yemen), but the CCP barely even tries. Other than some interesting tweets by Hu Xijin, the Editor-in-Chief of CCP propaganda rag Global Times, there is no attempt to point out the obvious, namely that Tiananmen Square is a bludgeon by which China's rivals hope to beat the government into submission.

This type of silence in the face of attack is unfathomable to the Western mind. When someone is spreading rumors and easily debunkable lies about you, you speak up. You set the record straight. You fight back. You do something . . . don't you?

Well, that silence speaks volumes about the nature of the (stage-managed) conflict that we are being drawn into. But that is a story for next week.