China protest shifts with economic backdrop post-'89

Wed Jun 3, 2009 4:00am EDT
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By Jason Subler

BEIJING (Reuters) - Twenty years after the crackdown on pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, China's economy has developed to the point that similar protests on the same scale are highly unlikely today.

The students and workers at the core of that June 4, 1989 movement faced problems from rampant inflation to the dismantling of a centralized system of job appointments. But people today generally enjoy much better living standards across the board.

Gross domestic product per capita has shot up nine-fold to an estimated $3,600 this year from $400 in 1989, according to the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook.

With that increased affluence, many of the students, professionals and other groups who would be the most likely potential source of organized challenges to the Communist Party rule are generally more occupied with making a living and getting ahead than with political change.

"As long as people are generally getting better off, I think the overwhelming majority will not have the willingness or the incentive to push so far as to risk taking on the system," said Andrew Gilholm, senior Northeast Asia analyst with consultancy Control Risks.

"The costs and the risks of trying to do that are still very high."

Not that Beijing does not face other challenges.