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In the U.S. Response to Tiananmen, a Delicate Balance Between Geopolitics and Human Rights

25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square: The U.S. Perspective

Speakers: Brent Scowcroft, President, Scowcroft Group; Former National Security Adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush
Nicholas D. Kristof, Columnist and former Beijing Correspondent, New York Times; Pulitzer Prize recipient for coverage of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
June 2, 2014

Event Description

On the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, Brent Scowcroft of the Scowcroft Group and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times join CFR President Richard N. Haass to discuss the events from the U.S. point of view. Kristof recounts his experience covering the protests as they unfolded in Beijing while Scowcroft discusses the sensitive political considerations of the U.S. response. The panelists also reflect on the prospects for democratic political reform in China in the future.

Event Highlights

Brent Scowcroft on how the importance of the bilateral relationship with China affected the U.S. response to the Tiananmen Square massacre:

"I think we saw what we had was a relationship with the Chinese of about 20 years that had been steadily getting better, improving. And the relationship between China and Russia was steadily eroding. This was a world which was very useful to us. Was it really democracy versus the Politburo and so on? Not fundamentally. It was geopolitics, basically."

Brent Scowcroft on China's resistance to democratic reform:

"The Chinese seem to me to be fundamentally fearful of disruption: civil war, chaos and so on. That deep down, they know they've got problems with their political system. My sense is that they're suspicious of democracy because it tends to be chaotic, and they don't know exactly what to do. And they've solved their economic problem in a dramatic and, for the time being, successful way. But they haven't dealt with their political problem."

Nicholas Kristof on China's continuing control over political freedoms:

"New Tiananmens kind of begin all the time. But what happens is, that first night of the Hu Yabong protest in Beijing University, they go in and they detain those students and cut if off. And when they see people who are potential threats, organizing commemorations of Tiananmen, for example, they arrest them and they question them. And so I think they're very, very careful to avoid letting it get to the stage when anybody is anywhere near Tiananmen Square."

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