Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Case for Tienanmen, a Philippines Perspective

I'm going to take a stance differing from many Westerners: that although bad, the crackdown by the PLA in 1989 China was justified if--as they argued--leaving the people to protest would have led to the fall of the Communist Party rule and led to the collapse of Chinese society.


In 1985, four years before Tienanmen, the Philippines underwent a similar case of country-wide protests, with the main action in the capital, Manila. The protesters wanted the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator ruling the Philippines, and a return to democracy.

As with China, where the Tienanmen (and other Chinese) protests began with the death of a respected reformist politician, the 'People Power' protests in the Philippines were instigated by the death of Ninoy Aquino, a pro-democracy politician who like Hu Yaobang fell out of favor with the ruling elite.

As with Tienanmen, the West and the media sided with the pro-democracy protesters, celebrating their expression of 'People Power' and emboldening the people to continue their protests which brought the capital to a standstill. 'People Power' was great, the Marcos regime horrible and evil.

However, in contrast to what happened in China 20 years ago, the Philippine military sided with the protesters and the Marcos regime caved in to 'People Power'. Marcos was thrown out bloodlessly. In China, the Communist Party crushed dissent violently. That was morally wrong, but did send a strong message deterring any further mass dissent that would disrupt society and make China appear unstable.

My point: in the latter 1980s, the Philippines was wealthier and more developed than China (really). The Philippines went down the path of democracy and ditched the authoritarian model. China stamped down on democracy and kept their authoritarian government.

Today China's and the Philippines' GDP per capita are about reversed relative to each other from what they were in 1989.

Today the media that in 1985 encouraged the Filipinos to embrace 'People Power' now heaps scorn on the impoverished and 'unstable' country that didn't make it. The media that continues to frown on China's authoritarianism nevertheless respects that country's enormous economic, technological, and military progress. Foreign investors flock to the 'stable' country.

The third-world Philippines and third-world China, around 20-24 years ago, both faced a conflict and choice between democracy and authoritarianism. One followed democracy, one authoritarianism. The one that chose authoritarianism is now the second largest economy in the world in terms of PPP, has sent astronauts into space, has several nuclear power plants, and is perceived as the next superpower. Its people are confident in their place in the world, and that they are destined for greatness. The one that chose democracy is now derided world-over, has to send millions of its people abroad to find (often menial and abusive) jobs, has declining infrastructure and education in spite of democracy, is beset by decades-old insurgencies, and struggles to attract investors. Its people have not gained economic or physical security from democracy, and have become so disillusioned with their country--and themselves--most expect that their nation will never be great, and a few even want their country to cease to exist so ashamed they are of it.

Taking these two roughly comparable cases, I hope readers can see why I do not have such an antagonistic view towards the Chinese military's crushing of dissent on June 4, 1989.

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Found this article interesting? Check out:
History: The Roadmap to the Future.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Africa.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Asia.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Europe.
History: The Roadmap to the Future--Latin America.

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