NEW DELHI: The quelling of student protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 31 years ago remains one of the bloodiest episodes in contemporary Chinese history. What was the trigger and how did the violent end come about? Former Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who was a young diplomat at the Indian embassy in Beijing in 1989, shares his experiences with StratNews Global Editor-in-Chief Nitin A. Gokhale in this exclusive interview. It began as a sympathy march for Hu Yaobang, whose death was announced on April 15, 1989. Seen as a pro-reform leader, he had been deposed as party general secretary a couple of years ago. The West saw the protest as Beijing Spring on the lines of the Prague Spring, says Vijay Gokhale, and the Western media erroneously kept portraying it that way. The Chinese media, on the contrary, was factual. The other misconception that remains to date, as he says, is that it was only the army that unleashed force. There were instances of protesters poking the troops, even beating them up. And what were the key takeaways for the Chinese leadership from the Tiananmen episode? Two, says Gokhale—(a) ensure no openness in the political system despite opening up the economy and (b) the West, U.S. in particular, is determined to effect a regime change in China.
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