As the Soviet Union was collapsing in the late 1980s and Russia seemed to be starting the process of democratization, 36-year-old US academic Francis Fukuyama had the audacity to assert that the world was at the “end of history.”
Fukuyama claimed that democratic systems would become the norm, and peace would prevail the world over.
He published a grandiose essay, “The End of History?” in the summer 1989 edition of the journal National Interest. Overnight, Fukuyama became a famous theorist in the US, western Europe, Japan and even Taiwan.
Did the collapse of the Soviet Union mark the end of an era as Fukuyama predicted?
Not at all.
The budding democracy did not survive the rise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative who ascended to the top of Russia’s polity, and sought to restore the global power and influence of the former Soviet Union.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine provides unmistakable evidence that autocracy is an everlasting threat to world peace.
Fukuyama’s knowledge of Communist China was naive and rather faulty. In June 1989, then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to crack down on angry students and others who had staged a sit-in at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government’s corruption and autocracy.
In May and June of that year, more than 200,000 university students and other young people were holding a sit-in to appeal to the CCP government to carry out its promised anti-corruption program and democratic reforms. The peaceful protest, which the students called a “patriotic democratic movement,” was not intended to destroy the system, but to democratize it.
However, CCP leadership, led by Deng and other hardliners, did not see anything patriotic in the protests. As far as they were concerned, the demonstrators were anti-party troublemakers intending to stir up political and social turmoil. They needed to be stopped by all means, including by force.
To shore up his already weakened leadership status, Deng acted tough. As chairman of the Chinese Military Affairs Council, Deng ordered troops to crush the demonstrators on the night of June 3, 1989, when PLA units moved toward Tiananmen Square from all directions, shooting and killing thousands of unarmed civilians who were at the square or on their way there.
Most Americans, including myself, watched in disbelief and shock as television screens showed vivid scenes of the crackdown.
Outrage among Americans over the massacre compelled the administration of then-US president George H.W. Bush to impose a series of punishing sanctions on the CCP.
The US immediately halted military relations with China — no more sales of military equipment, no contacts between the US military and the PLA, and a crackdown on US and international lending to China.
In spite of the efforts by the Bush administration to restore US-China relations, the US Congress and the public changed the dynamics of interactions between the two countries. There could be no return to the partnership that existed before the massacre on June 4, 1989.
Did Fukuyama see that? Apparently he did not.
Parris Chang is a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council and professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University.
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