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In June of 1989 China was a nation in the midst of social and political upheaval, caught between the younger generation's desire for democracy and economic freedom on one hand and the Deng Xiaoping government's determination to preserve Communist rule on the other. The entire country seemed to be in a kind of stasis as Deng's regime tried to find a way to balance these conflicting desires in its response to the mass demonstrations in Beijing's Tienanmen Square; around the world heads of state, intelligence analysts and ordinary people alike were holding their breath as they waited to see how the standoff would be resolved.
One of those waiting to find out where the chips would fall was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose own nation was in the midst of political and economic change that summer. He had many concerns in regard to the Tienanmen Square situation, not the least of which was the distinct(if slim) possibility the upheaval in China might lead to a renewal of the old Siberian border antagonisms between Moscow and Beijing that had pushed both governments to the brink of war in 1969.
Another was US President George H.W. Bush, then six months into his term as commander-in-chief. He was concerned that the turmoil then besieging the Middle Kingdom might expand to engulf Japan and South Korea, both vital U.S. allies.