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George HW Bush's muted response to Tiananmen Massacre greatest US China policy failure: Scholar

Greatest US China policy failure was George HW Bush's muted response to Tiananmen Massacre: Scholar

Scene of Tiananmen Massacre. (Image from

Scene of Tiananmen Massacre. (Image from

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- An American scholar asserts that former President George H.W. Bush's muted response to the Tiananmen Massacre was the United States' greatest China policy failure since the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests.

After former President George H.W. Bush died on Friday (Nov. 30) in Houston, Texas at the age of 94, scholars have started to reassess the legacy of his foreign policy during his tenure, which saw the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, but the reassertion of communist rule in China with the brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown. In an email interview with Hong Kong's Apple Daily, Perry Link, emeritus professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University, said that Bush's emphasis on personal relations with Chinese officials, especially Deng Xiaoping, the late leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), resulted in only minor punishment for the atrocities witnessed in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

In the autumn of 1974, though the U.S. had not yet established diplomatic relations with Beijing, Bush was sent to Beijing to serve as the chief of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing. Though his title was Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office, he was in effect the U.S. Ambassador to Communist China.

When Bush arrived in Beijing, he quickly integrated into life in Red China, riding a bicycle, eating roast duck, and learning Chinese. Fifteen years later (1989), in the first year of his presidency, the June 6 Tiananmen Square Massacre shocked the world. In order to suppress the students who were striving for democracy and freedom, the CCP sent tanks to slaughter an estimated 10,454 people, based on U.S. government files declassified in 2014.

After news of the massacre reached Washington, U.S. congressmen demanded severe sanctions to disqualify China from receiving Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. However, Bush instead only suspended high-level talks between officials of the two countries and banned arms shipments to China.

By May of 1990, the U.S. extended MFN status to China and in November of 1991 Secretary of State James Baker visited China to thaw relations, but made no progress in the way of guarantees from China in improving human rights. In 1992, a mere three years after the bloody massacre, Premier Li Peng visited the U.S. and essentially fully restored relations between the two countries.

In an interview with Apple Daily, Link said Bush made a major mistake in dealing with the Tiananmen incident on June 4, pointing out that while he declared high-level contacts between the U.S. and China should be suspended, he sent then Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and the Whitehouse Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft to secretly visit Beijing.

Link said that this constituted not only a lie to the American people, but also the greatest failure of American policy toward China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests.