Twenty Years On, Tiananmen Still Commands Global Attention

Commemorations of the 20th anniversary of China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square today produced images ranging from the momentous to the surreal.

In Beijing, plain clothes security officials sparred with reporters in a darkly comical umbrella dance at Tiananmen Square, where police outnumbered tourists. In Hong Kong, organizers estimated that 150,000 people turned out for a candlelit vigil in Victoria Park.

International discourse on the anniversary reached a fever pitch over the last week, with hardly a pundit on the planet — outside China, that is — silent on the subject. That China’s democratic credentials or lack thereof commands such a wide international audience is a testament to the global importance the country has taken on.

For human rights activists, the Tiananmen anniversary — and Beijing’s pre-emptive actions to avoid any public demonstrations inside China — serves as a stark reminder of how far China has come as an economic power, and how far it has yet to go to become a benevolent one.

In addition to the overwhelming security presence in Beijing today, authorities’ pre-emptive moves included shutting down access to social networking sites like Twitter, censoring Internet reports from major international new outlets, detaining some known dissidents and ordering others to be put under “thought supervision and control.”