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June 4, 1989

China Division, Asian Affairs Bureau [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan], 'The Chinese Student Demonstrations (Part 2)'

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Subject: The Chinese Student Demonstrations (Part 2)

Date and Time of Transmission: June 4 (Sunday), 20:40

Number of Pages for Transmission: 3

Transmitting Section: China Division, Asian Affairs Bureau

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The Chinese Student Demonstrations (Military’s Use of Force)


June 4, 1989

China Division


1. Recognition of the Facts

(1) Late on the night of June 3, Beijing martial law authorities dispatched large-scale armed forces, including tanks, and set out to remove the students by use of force. Students and civilians responded to this by continuing to put up strenuous resistance (they were defenseless). At 2 o’clock in the morning of June 4, the military thrusted into Tiananmen Square, resulting in many deaths and wounded. By around 3 o’clock, the Square was largely brought under control by the military.

(2) With control by military force, the situation on the surface is one that has been brought under control, but the many deaths and injuries of innocent civilians caught in the military’s indiscriminate shooting has deepened the rift between students and civilians on the one hand and the government and military on the other. It has also greatly damaged the image of the government and military internationally.


2. Background to the Current Situation

(1) Power Struggle within the Leadership

Li Peng is seen as having taken the initiative in obtaining the support of Deng Xiaoping, Yang Shangkun, and others who have consistently taken a harsh attitude toward demands for democratization. One could say, in that sense, that he was early given the responsibility for the early suppression of the student movement. There is also information that work within the party on how to handle Zhao Ziyang and others is not moving forward as expected. At this rate, in the event that bringing the student demonstrations under control drags out, the possibility of forces in support of Zhao regaining its strength cannot be excluded. As for the Li Peng group, with an eye on the state of the power struggle within the leadership and starting with a rumored full meeting of the Party’s Central Committee, it was necessary to suppress the students as soon as possible to settle the situation.


(2) Lateness in Bringing the Situation under Control and Military Moves

Li Peng and others rejected Zhao’s flexible line of "dialogue" with the students and launched a hard-line policy through the imposition of martial law. Even so, some of the students stuck to continuing their sit-in. One could say that the leadership of Li Peng and the others, unable to commit to forcible removal by the military and with the state of the martial law without substance having continued for half a month, could be called into question. There seems to be a reluctance among some in the military regarding armed suppression in the background to this (initially, the military advanced and then turned back). One could speculate that it was probably a situation where the hard-line of Li Peng and others did not simply bring the military together. In that sense, given the military’s relentless suppression, it can be inferred that by the night of June 3, the military settled on carrying out the policy of force.

(Note) It was reported the night of June 3 on Central Television that Defense Minister Qin Jiwei, who was reportedly disgraced at one point for having supported Zhao, paid a visit to martial law units. One could say that this would also suggest the military’s coming to an agreement on going ahead with armed suppression. 


(3) The Problem of Democratization and Liberalization

It seems that a group of conservative elders within the Party had a strong sense of crisis that leaving alone the students who had caused "turmoil" in demanding democratization would shake the one-party dictatorship of the Communist Party and, in turn, could quite possibly lead to the present system’s collapse. It is not difficult to imagine that some of the students continuing, despite their separation from residents and the harsh clampdown, to raise the banner of "Down with Li Peng" (with the fear of this leading to criticism of the present leadership and, in turn, the Communist Party) and stage a sit-down in the square in front of Tiananmen, which had the world’s attention, was seen by the present leadership as truly "counter-revolutionary riot" and something "to be decisively suppressed."


3. The Current Situation: Evaluation and Impact


(1) Decline in the Party’s Prestige

The demands of the students for democratization developed into a broad mass movement that obtained civilian support and participation. Against this, the present leadership in the end turned against the masses, so to speak, in the form of armed suppression. One can say that the Party thereby became the object of the people’s anger and disappointment as a dictatorial group oppressing the masses and that it is no exaggeration to say that the Party’s prestige has declined to such a point that recovery will be difficult. Therefore, even if the Party was able for the short term to bring the situation under control and maintain the present leadership’s power, it is inevitable that the Party’s base in the medium to long term will be very unstable.


(2) Decline in International Image

(a) One can say that China’s present leadership’s imposition of the martial law while the world was watching, producing many victims due to the military’s firing on many defenseless students and civilians, has worsened China’s international image and that it has lost the international reputation that had risen due to 10 years of efforts in reform and opening with the incident. There is the possibility that the darkness and instability of China’s dictatorial politics will lead to a substantial reduction of the international society’s confidence in China and its desire to advance relations with China. It is probably inevitable that economic exchanges in particular, such as investment, will be greatly affected.

(b) In addition, it is conceivable that it will have a major psychological effect on Hong Kong’s return to Mainland China in 1997, such as doubts concerning Deng’s "One Country, Two Systems" and, furthermore, have a negative effect on the movement toward promoting exchanges with Taiwan.

(c) In addition, there is the possibility that relations with the United States – which cannot ignore domestic opinion that is sensitive to issues of democratization and human rights – will experience, with the likely future strengthening of conservative thinking in China, much friction of various types around the handling of dissident intellectuals and such.

(d) The Soviet Union has not commented but reported that "the authorities repeatedly proposed negotiations with the student side,” expressing their understanding of the Chinese side.


The document, written on June 4, 1989 and submitted by the China Division, Asian Affairs Bureau of Japan, lists the facts surrounding Beijing’s use of martial law authorities and military force during the Tiananmen Square incident on June 3, 1989. It details the background leading up to the imposition of the martial law, power struggles within the Chinese Communist Party, lateness in bringing the situation under control, and struggle for democratization and liberalization. It also indicates the impact of the Tiananmen Square incident and the CCP’s response as it pertains to the Party’s prestige and international image.

Document Information


2020-0545, Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs, published online by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Translated by Stephen Mercado.


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