What 1989 Tiananmen might tell us about 2020 Hong Kong

By Martin Petersen

Martin Petersen spent 33 years with the CIA, retiring in February 2005 as Deputy Executive Director and Acting Executive Director. In the course of his agency career, he ran two large analytic units (The Office of East Asian Analysis and the Office of Asian Pacific Latin America Analysis) before becoming Associate Deputy Director of Intelligence for Strategic Plans and Programs, the first Chief Human Resources Officer for CIA, and Deputy Executive Director.

Cipher Brief Expert Martin Petersen is the former Deputy Executive Director of the CIA. At the time of Tiananmen, he was Deputy Director of the Office of East Asia Analysis.

CIPHER BRIEF EXPERT TAKE — The Chinese leadership’s handling of Tiananmen and the aftermath can give us some idea of what to expect if, as seems likely, the regime fully implements the new security law the NPC just passed. The situations are similar in key aspects, but differ in important ways.
Like Tiananmen, the Chinese leadership sees the Hong Kong democracy movement as a threat to not only their control of Hong Kong but to the stability of the regime. Deng and the others attributed the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe in no small measure to a failure to take decisive action early. They believed there would be a price to pay in the West, but that the lure of the China market would bring investors back. International opprobrium would fade as Western attention turned elsewhere, and the regime would be free to deal with the dissidents as they chose. They also expected their Asian neighbors to remain essentially silent. And, that is basically what happened.

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