The Chinese government's authorization of the use of deadly force on 4 June 1989 against peaceful demonstrators accomplished in one stroke what unrest in Tibet, earlier student demonstrations, the arrests of political activists, and reports of torture had failed to achieve: global attention became sharply focused on human rights violations in China. The steady growth of activism in this issue area and the multiplication of information channels, including, as in this case, live television broadcasts, guaranteed such attention, where once such abuses probably would have gone unrecorded. Some twenty years earlier, in October 1968, for example, the Mexican military had fired into a student demonstration killing between 300 and 500 people but it had attracted muted international attention, even though within ten days the country was to play host to the Olympic Games. 1 In this case the Mexican government was able to control most of the information about the killings and there were few independent sources able to challenge its version of events. By 1989 we were in a different communications era and such secrecy was no longer possible.
In the early weeks and months of this human rights crisis, Western and Japanese governmental responses were reasonably well coordinated, aided by the unequivocal nature of the evidence of abuse, US leadership, and significantly timed and already scheduled meetings of the G7 in July and of the UN Sub-Commission in August. Multilateral sanctions of both a symbolic and material kind were imposed on China and hurt it economically, politically, and in terms of its international image. This propelled China along a path that began with denial and the countering of the human rights norm with that of state sovereignty and noninterference, but from early 1990 resulted in some tactical concessions.