NORTHVILLE, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) – Eyes are on China, where police are working to contain protests over COVID-19 lockdowns. The United States has been cautious in its response to demonstrators' actions. Local experts say there's delicate diplomacy at play.
"It certainly is a rare occurrence what's going on; there has not been this level of protest in China since 1989," said Tom Watkins, president, and CEO at TDW and Associates.
At that time, Watkins, a Northville resident, was in Tiananmen Square surrounded by students protesting the Chinese Communist Party.
"Calling for greater freedom, democracy, and to corruption, and to provide a better life for the Chinese people," Watkins said.
His heart aches that more than 30 years later, there's once again civil unrest over the same issues.
"They're protesting, holding up white sheets of paper. There's no words, there is no calling, necessarily for the downfall of anybody. But the paper speaks very loudly. It is about the censorship, the fact that they cannot freely speak out," Watkins said.
The recent clashes began over the country's zero COVID policy, posing a direct challenge to communist leaders.
"We support the right of people everywhere to peacefully protest to make known their views, their concerns, and their frustrations," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Balancing a complicated relationship with China, The United States has shied away from outright supporting the demonstrators' calls for more freedom.
"So we have to find ways to not think that we can thump our chest and tell China what to do. We're gonna have to collaborate, cooperate, communicate with China, to avoid unnecessary conflict," Watkins said.
It's upsetting to some, like Gary Yang, a small business owner in Metro Detroit who also participated in the Tiananmen square protest in 1989
"I always have problems with this administration's unwillingness to actually express their values," Yang said. "Especially to supporting the people in China for their desire for more freedom and I think Americans should do more."
On Tuesday, police were out in force in major cities across China, as universities sent students home to curb more protests.
Watkins believes there will be punishment for those who took to the streets.
"They'll blame local officials; they'll blame foreigners from outside for causing this unrest. But anger, once guided, doesn't go away until and unless it's addressed," Watkins said.
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