Tiananmen and Its Aftermath, June 1989–November 1991

Rosemary Foot

in Rights Beyond Borders

Published in print September 2000 | ISBN: 9780198297765
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599279 | DOI:
Tiananmen and Its Aftermath, June 1989–November 1991

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Looks at the June 1989—November 1991 period of human rights history in China, following the government's authorization of the use of deadly force against peaceful demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989, which accomplished in one stroke what unrest in Tibet, earlier student demonstrations, the arrests of political activists, and reports of torture had failed to achieve: global attention became sharply focused on human rights violations in China. The steady growth of activism in this issue area and the multiplication of information channels (including, as in this case, live television broadcasts), guaranteed such attention, where once such abuses probably would have gone unrecorded. In the early weeks and months of this human rights crisis, Western and Japanese governmental responses were reasonably well coordinated, aided by the unequivocal nature of the evidence of abuse. Multilateral sanctions of both a symbolic and material kind were imposed on China. This propelled the Chinese leadership along a path that began with denial, and the countering of the human rights norm with that of state sovereignty and non‐interference, but from early 1990, it resulted in some tactical concessions. Later still, China's behaviour indicated some softening of its strict definition of state sovereignty. However, despite this initial coordinated set of responses, mainly among major democratic states, there were several signs that multilateral accord would prove difficult to sustain; more significantly, the Gulf crisis of 1990–1991 provided Beijing with crucial diplomatic leverage, and many of the UN sanctions that had been imposed melted away, although the events of Tiananmen still ensured the regular attention of NGOs and of the UN human rights regime. The different sections of the chapter are: Early International Responses; The Shifting of Priorities; The Impact of the Gulf War; The Fate of the Human Rights Regime; The Evolution in China's Response; and Conclusion.

Keywords: China; China's response; governmental responses; Gulf War; human rights; human rights abuses; human rights regime; multilateral accord; state sovereignty; Tiananmen; US–China relations

Chapter.  16780 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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