January 19, 2005


He knew the truth of Tiananmen (Jonathan Mirsky, January 19, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

No one who was there will forget the face of Zhao Ziyang, then the Chinese Communist party leader, when late on the night of May 19, 1989, he suddenly appeared among the Tiananmen students to tell them, "I am very sorry, very sorry, I have come too late." He warned the students that the authorities were planning to clear Tiananmen Square and urged them to leave at once.

Equally memorable was the face of another man on the square that night. Totally silent, Prime Minister Li Peng gazed with undisguised scorn on the scene that embodied everything the party's hard-liners hated. The next night, Li Peng's hoarse voice announced martial law in Beijing. Two weeks later, starting on June 3, tanks and heavily armed soldiers entered the square and began the killing.

Soon Zhao was beginning his 15-year internal exile. After his death on Monday, his daughter said, "My father is free at last." [...]

Everyone over 40 in Beijing knows that Zhao argued against a violent crackdown in 1989. He had told the Asian Development Bank in early May of that year that the demonstrators were patriotic, and he paid friendly visits to hunger strikers in several hospitals. In debates within the Politburo Standing Committee, stiffened by small group of "elders" convened by the elderly Deng Xiaoping, Zhao repeatedly advised negotiating with the students.

The debate was acrimonious. The octogenarian Wang Zhen, a former vice president and general, reportedly burst out during a meeting at Deng's residence: "Those damn bastards, who do they think they are trampling on sacred ground like Tiananmen for so long? Anyone who tries to overthrow the Communist Party deserves death without burial."

From the standpoint of party ideologues, Zhao was already suspect, although until Tiananmen he remained Deng's favorite. Indeed, it was Zhao's ideas and policies, beginning in 1962 when he began to unravel the famine-wracked communes in the deep south, and again in the 1970s when he advocated returning land to farmers in the northwest, which lay behind the economic reforms for which Deng is usually given the credit.

In a famous debate during the days before Zhao's exile, Deng is said to have declared, "I have the army behind me." Zhao replied, "And I have the people behind me." To which Deng said: "Then you have nothing."

George H. W. Bush can be forgiven his tax hikes--it's easy enough to cut them again--but not his failure to support the students at Tiananmen.

Zhao's death puts Hu in a quandary: The death of Zhao Ziyang - economic and political reformer and champion of the Tiananmen protesters - presents Chinese President Hu Jintao with a major quandary in drafting Zhao's political epitaph. He must tread carefully, as Zhao's reforms are now Hu's own, and there is still passionate support for the Tiananmen victims. (Tian Jing, 1/20/05, Asia Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 19, 2005 9:53 AM

My Go[sh], so true. I will never listen to Brent Snowcroft on anything as long as I live after his toast with the murderers. Bush deserved defeat for this alone.

Posted by: Palmcroft at January 19, 2005 10:02 AM

An interesting choice: blink and continue to enable China on its road to modernity, or support the students with every word we have (but no actual fighting). Scowcroft made his choice and Bush followed meekly.

I don't know what specific thing we could have done, but it should have been done.

Of course, the choices Clinton made (to get in bed with the army and the party) were just as mendacious.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 19, 2005 10:07 AM

Why no fighting?

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2005 10:35 AM

Zhao's great tragedy was that, unlike Yeltsin, he ultimately refused to turn against the Communist Party and so sealed his own and China's fate. Compounding the tragedy was that if Zhao had repudiated the Party, he could have counted on support not only from countless ordinary citizens in China itself, but also enormous economic and democratic support from millions of people in Hong Kong and Taiwan and from millions others in the Chinese diaspora. This was something Yelstin and post-Communist Russia didn't enjoy. If Zhao had had the courage to let go of his loyalty to the Party, a Party that didn't deserve that loyalty, he would have had a real chance to found a truly new China that was not only prosperous, but democratic too. Unfortunately, neither Zhao nor any of America's and Europe's so-called "realists" understood that the Communist Party was and is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

Posted by: X at January 19, 2005 12:14 PM

hey "X":

If you've the inclination, could you send me an e-mail? (orrin@brothersjudd.zzn.com)

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2005 12:30 PM

For America to fight China, we would either have to use lots of nuclear weapons, which I can't see happening unless we are hit first, or we would have to use troops, which won't happen unless there is a civil war and we enter on the 'right' side.

We could attack targets (naval bases, factories, ICBM sites, Intelligence buildings and sites, communications, logistical stuff, etc.) with our 'regular' weapons, but I can't see fighting a stand-off war like that for very long. Absent a major provocation, no President could sustain that sort of thing today. Killing a few thousand protesters in Tienanmen Square is not provocation enough.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 19, 2005 1:26 PM


Take out those military installations in conjunction with popular revolt and the regime can't hold.

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2005 6:00 PM

I agree that Bush mishandled the Tiananmen Demonstrations, but going to war with China would have been bad. It was an internal civil war. I would not have wanted to risk death fighting for Chinese democracy.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at January 19, 2005 6:54 PM

It's that "in conjunction" part that is tricky, both in China and even more so in Iran. Walking a tightrope in the circus can be fun; doing it with Iran and China is perilous.

China is more likely to have internal governmental pressure for reform and democracy - perhaps if Deng had already been dead, Zhao could have surged to power and accomodated democracy in small steps. Iran just needs about 5000 nutjobs killed in one night.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 19, 2005 9:48 PM