Third, since 1989, and especially since the Soviet collapse, a reputed litmus test for senior party leadership is a willingness to spill blood when either party leadership or national integrity are threatened. This stems from the lessons Beijing drew from both events: namely, that their actions in Tiananmen were on the right side of history and that the Soviet leadership lacked similar resolve, with devastating political and national consequences.

In fact, we might be concerned that this has produced a sort of political calculus that explains the extraordinary responses to Falun Gong almost two decades ago and what’s unfolded in Xinjiang
more recently. If so, this might be even more true under President Xi Jinping, whose consolidation of power and status as commander-in-chief will push him to resist because he’ll have to own it completely; but if he moves, then he will have to go all-in.

Fourth, by many accounts democracy and the rule of law fare poorly these days in the Western world as well. There have been many popular protests in the US and Britain over the past decade alone, including those in Britain now with protests against a prorogued parliament. What have they accomplished? What did the “umbrella revolution” accomplish? What have the current protests accomplished?

Lenin was right of course, but up to a point. It’s possible now to imagine tanks in Hong Kong, and tanks might return to Belfast and even enter Edinburgh at some point.