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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

And the tanks rolled down the Square...

June 8, 2009

Claude Arpi
June 4, 2009

The last twenty years have witnessed a sea of changes in the world; the
emerging of new power centres in Asia, the global threat of climate change
and the planetary economic crisis to name a few.

China too has gone through tremendous changes. The Middle Kingdom has become
an economic power to reckon with; some even say that it will be the 21st
century's superpower.

However, it is still suffering from a deep scar, the reigning party killed
thousands of its own children on Tiananmen Square at dawn on June 4, 1989.
Today, the regime in Beijing is not ready to admit to any wrong doing and
even less to consider changes in its policies.

Young China believed that Democracy and Freedom could help their country to
take its rightful place in the world, but the oligarchs in Zhongnanhai sent
the tanks to smash thousands of striking students.

Ironically, it was not only the 'common man' or a few intellectuals who
believed in the necessity for a greater involvement of the people in China's
governance, many in the Communist Party thought that the time had come to
evolve and drop the dictatorship of one party.

Every Chinese person, whether a party member or not, should be entitled to
participate in the rise of China, thought the students. They paid dearly for
their daring dreams.

How China has 'digested' the event 20 years later

One of those who believed in a more democratic China was the former Chinese
Communist Party boss Hu Yaobang. Though he had to resign from his position
in 1986 after the first students's protest, he still had many followers in
the party.

Some of his disciples were Zhao Ziyang, then the party general secretary,
and Xi Zhongxun, the deputy chairman of the standing committee of the
National People's Conference. It is a historic fact that in 1989, the
politburo was divided into two factions when it came to the matter of
'democratic' reforms.

We have today a rather accurate picture of the split within the central
leadership, especially after the minutes of the meetings held by the
politburo members and the group of Elders headed by Deng Xiaoping, the
paramount leader, were smuggled out of China in 2001 (presumably by a
participant of the May-June 1989 events in Beijing).

When Hu Yaobang passed away in April 1989, what history will always remember
as the 'Tiananmen democracy movement' started to unfold.

The details of the 'incident,' as Beijing still terms it, are too well known
to be recounted here, but it is worth looking at the way China has
'digested' the event twenty years later.

Hu Jintao is seven times less powerful than Mao

One answer to this question was given by Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the
standing committee of the National People's Congress and number two in the
party hierarchy: 'We will never exercise multi-party rule... (we do not
believe in) the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers or
the bicameral system.'

He affirmed that China will never, never implement a 'Western type'
democratic system.

These words were pronounced two months ago during the annual session of the
National People's Congress. Wu added: 'We can by no means indiscriminately
copy the Western system.'

It was partly a response to the Charter 08 signed by hundreds of prominent
Chinese intellectuals. The document stated in strong terms that political
democratisation was a need for China.

The charter asked for sweeping changes to create a 'free, democratic and
constitutional State.'

While the release of Charter 08 coincided with the 60th anniversary of the
United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Wu's declaration was
made to placate many Chinese deputies wanting to raise the issue during the
National People's Congress.

Wu explained: 'China's system of political parties is a system of
multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of
the Communist Party of China, not a Western-style multi-party system.'

Wu is probably not aware that 'democracy' has not been invented by the West.
More than 2,500 years ago, in the Buddha's time, small democratic republics
flourished in North India; archeologists have even said that more than 5,000
years ago, the Indus-Saraswati civilisation knew the principle of
decentralisation and participatory governance.

Greece and the West discovered it much later. It is therefore wrong to
associate 'democracy' with the West.

The 'Fifth Modernisation' as the famous dissident Wei Jingsheng called it,
is still taboo issue in Communist China, though many believe that it is just
a pretext for the party to avoid relinquishing its dictatorship over the
Chinese nation.

For the past 20 years, the Chinese leadership, at least the hard-line
faction has stubbornly refused to follow the world trend towards greater
transparency and enroll the participation of ordinary (non-party) masses in
the governance of the nation.

The present leadership, despite its dictatorial attitude is rather
powerless. A friend with great knowledge of the functioning of the party
told me recently that President Hu Jintao is seven times less powerful than

I don't know how he arrived at this figure, but it is a well-known fact that
today the party's leaders can't take any forward-looking decisions because
of their divisions and lack of personal charisma.

20 years later in China, everything is done in the name of 'stability'

Just look at this photograph! Who is standing behind Zhao Ziyang, the party
boss on Tiananmen Square in May 1989 while he tries to convince the students
that the politburo is on their side and is keen to introduce reforms?

As Zhao assures the students that all issues could be dealt with 'in a
proper manner,' Wen Jiabao, China's present prime minister, stands behind
him. He was then the director of the general office of the CPC Central

Take Xi Jianping, who is today Hu Jintao's heir apparent; his father Xi
Zhongxun was one of the staunchest reformers and a close supporter of Hu
Yaobang. Is it not an indication that in the party all may not share Wu's

Unable to reach a consensus, the hard-line always prevails. It has been the
case, amongst others, for the negotiations with the Dalai Lama's

It is also what happened during the months preceding the Tiananmen massacre.
As no consensus could emerge, the hard-liners (the Eight Elders lead by Deng
Xiaoping) prevailed.

On June 6, 1989, two days after the tanks had rolled on the Square, a
meeting of the Elders was held in Zongnanhai. Wang Zhen, the vice-president
of the People's Republic and an old soldier stated:

'We're are still going to rely on the PLA to stabilise things. We need to
get the PLA, the PAP (People's Armed Police) and the regular police all out
there hitting those counter-revolutionary rioters as hard as they can,
arresting when necessary, killing when they need to, and being absolutely
sure no rioters get away.'

'Stability' became the leitmotiv. Twenty years later in the Middle Kingdom,
everything is done in the name of 'stability,' a euphemism for one-party
eternal rule.

A recent example has been the bloody repression of the Tibetans in
March-April 2008. More than 200 Tibetans were killed on the high plateau
during these two months, just because the Tibetan masses expressed their
resentment against the Chinese cadres.

The same Chinese were supposed to have 'emancipated' and 'liberated' the
common men and women of the Roof of the Word in 1950; they had entered Tibet
with this only purpose.

Such a sad joke on the Tibetans! Twenty years after the Tiananmen massacre,
more and more news of arrests and death condemnations are trickling out of

China has been destabilised by the global economic crisis

It is not all: The weak Chinese leadership is so obsessed with 'stability'
that the parents who lost their only child when poorly-built schools
collapsed during last year earthquake in Sichuan, are not allowed to take
legal action or protest, because this could endanger 'social stability.'

A commentator recently wrote in The South China Morning Post: 'So, after
having been victimised by the forces of nature, they are now being
victimised by agents of the state who monitor their every word and pressure
them to accept their loss stoically; to put their faith in the Communist
Party and the government.'

Examples could be multiplied. This comes at a time when China has been
destabilised by the global economic crisis. Ian Campbell, wrote for 'The Chinese are worried that the decisions by the US and
the UK to try to print their way out of economic trouble will end badly. The
money creation could end up debauching the dollar and pound and inviting a
global inflationary crisis.'

China has $744 bn of US Treasury bonds. Obviously if the dollar loses its
value (or does not remain the reserve currency, the main loser will be China
which will then face real destabilisation.

All this can only increase the paranoia of the present leaders. Like many
CEOs the worlds over, they could loose their job as a side effect of the
present crisis.

A Chinese friend recently argued with me, "One-party rule is better that
your 40 party kitcheri in India." I could not defend the present Indian
system, but I told him that even if a Middle Path might be ideal, at least
in India we have a security valve and the possibility to throw out a corrupt
or inefficient government. It makes a big difference and it ultimately
assures a great stability, even in apparent chaos.

At a time when my ancestors the Gauls thought the sky risked falling on
their heads, the Chinese Emperors already feared 'chaos.'

The question for the new emperors is will empowerment of the people bring
chaos in China or help defuse it? Common sense indicates that the latter is
most likely.
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