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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Democracy Thwarted

June 5, 2008

Claude Arpi
The Pioneer (India)
June 4, 2008

The External Affairs Minister of the largest democracy in the world
will arrive in Beijing on June 4 for a four-day visit to China on the
occasion of the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in which
several thousand Chinese students were smashed by the tanks of the
People's Liberation Army. Of course, Mr Pranab Mukherjee's visit has
nothing to do with the 'celebrations'. However, the mandarins of
South Block could have pointed out to their Chinese counterparts that
India is attached to democratic principles and a more auspicious date
could have been found. They may have thought, "Why bother about
Tiananmen when there is so much on Mr Mukherjee's plate?"

The Minister will open a new Indian Consulate in Guangzhou, take up
the issue of recurring Chinese incursions in Arunachal Pradesh,
Ladakh and Sikkim, and the five-decade-old boundary dispute. Mr Yang
Jiechi, his Chinese counterpart, is bound to air Beijing's usual
'anger' at Tibetan refugees holding rallies before the coming
Olympics Games and the "splittist attitude of the Dalai Lama's clique".

As usual, India will respond in a low-key manner not only to
incursions across the Line of Actual Control, but also the forays of
Chinese hackers into the servers of the Ministry of External Affairs.
Many in India believe that the hackers' intrusions, which threaten
the country's diplomatic and military security, are comparable to a
terrorist attack, though the Chinese Embassy in Delhi has reacted
angrily: "It is an irresponsible fabrication."

However, as an analyst has rightly pointed out, "The incident fits an
emerging pattern of planned Chinese penetration of Government
Websites and subsequent denial of responsibility." But Indian
officials will probably explain that there is no use in raising a hue
and cry about these small irritants; that our 'quiet diplomacy of
saying things gently' is more effective.

It is regrettable that South Block did not 'gently' inform Beijing
about the significance of June 4, a day which will forever remain a
wound in the history of democracy. A few days after the 1989 event,
Mr Yuan Mu, the then spokesman of the State Council, declared that
only 23 students had died, along with some 'ruffians'. A year later,
Beijing tried to make its version more plausible. Time quoted from
the official report of the upheaval: "Chen Xitong, Beijing's
hard-line Mayor, claimed that 200 civilians were killed and more than
3,000 were wounded." The Mayor insisted the casualties were mainly
soldiers and policemen. The Time report countered this claim:
"(Chen's) figures for civilians are almost universally dismissed as
outrageous underestimates. On the day of the crackdown, Chinese Red
Cross sources told reporters that 2,600 people died and 10,000 were injured."

The point is that Beijing has never revised its stand on the events
of May-June 1989. Ten years after the massacre, Mr Zhu Muzhi, the
president of China Society for Human Rights Studies, an official
think tank, noted, "If the way we handled the Tiananmen crisis was
incorrect, we would not have today's prosperity. China would be in
chaos. The people would have risen and resisted the Government." This
is the closest to acknowledging the just demands of the students.

The only senior Chinese leader to have accepted that the students had
democratic aspirations was Premier Zhu Rongji. In 1999 he said, "The
episode in 1989 (happened) because they wanted democracy but they
didn't want the rule of law. That's why it happened."

The Tiananmen Square episode was triggered in April 1989 by the death
of former Chinese Communist Party secretary-general Hu Yaobang. Two
years earlier he had resigned from his position after a students'
protest. The People's Daily had expressed some sympathy with the
students while affirming that "the limits of official toleration were
being approached". According to a section of the CPC, the limits were
crossed in 1989.

Soon after Hu's death, students started demonstrating against the
lack of democracy and corruption. At the beginning, the CPC was not
directly targeted, but an editorial in the People's Daily on April 26
termed the students' movement as "turmoil" (a word used during the
Cultural Revolution) and this angered the students; their numbers
began swelling. This editorial quoted Deng Xiaoping as accusing some
"extremely small segments of opportunists of plotting turmoil".

The Tiananmen Papers, the most remarkable collection of documents on
the events of 1989 and the inner functioning of the CPC, show the
crucial role of eight Elders led by Deng Xiaoping. Though none of
them had a Government position, it is they who decided the course of
the events.

During the following weeks, one of the main demands of the students
was the withdrawal of the April 26 editorial. The Chinese leadership
was deeply divided over the movement. The Politburo members began to
rally behind either Mr Zhao Ziyang, the then general secretary of the
CPC or Mr Li Peng. In his introduction to the Tiananmen Papers,
Andrew Nathan has said, "Zhao Ziyang's instincts were to loosen up
politically in order to invigorate the economy, accepting a
consequent loss of control but maintaining authority through a more
consultative style of leadership. Li Peng's instinct was to focus on
stability and keep political control."

Till today, the 'stability' line prevails over the more open one.
President Hu Jintao declared a few days before the beginning of the
March events on the Roof of the World, "Tibet's stability has to do
with the entire country's stability; Tibet's safety has to do with
the entire country's safety".

In June 1989, the 'stability' line prevailed: Tough decisions alone
could save China from going the Soviet Union's way. The hardliners
feared that any loosening of the dictatorship of the party will
immediately bring instability which should be avoided at any cost.
Similar thinking continues to prevail in Beijing.

Matrial law was imposed as the students' movement gathered steam; Mr
Zhao Ziyang was sacked; Mr Li Peng was given the task to implement
the decision of the Elders; Mr Jiang Zemin was selected to replace Mr
Zhao Ziyang. The build-up of events culminated during the night of
June 3-4 when the tanks of the 27th Army rolled onto Tiananmen
Square. The rest is history.

As Mr Mukherjee will be arriving in Beijing on this special day, it
would be good if he could explain to his interlocutors that after 60
years of independence, India's experience is that 'stability' can
rhyme with 'democracy'. Will he do it?
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