WORLD

TITANIC STRUGGLE

CHINA'S HARD-LINE LEADERS GAIN THE UPPER HAND WHILE THE STUDENTS SEEM TO RUN OUT OF STEAM

JOHN BIERMAN June 5 1989
WORLD

TITANIC STRUGGLE

CHINA'S HARD-LINE LEADERS GAIN THE UPPER HAND WHILE THE STUDENTS SEEM TO RUN OUT OF STEAM

JOHN BIERMAN June 5 1989

TITANIC STRUGGLE

WORLD

CHINA'S HARD-LINE LEADERS GAIN THE UPPER HAND WHILE THE STUDENTS SEEM TO RUN OUT OF STEAM

All week the demonstrations persisted in Beijing’s vast Tiananmen Square. Loudspeakers blared the heroic cadences of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the Communist anthem, The International Posters displayed the latest slogans calling for political reforms. Despite the stirring music and rhetoric, the Chinese people's unprecedented, student-led rebellion was swiftly running out of steam. Without a powerful focus of attention, such as that provided by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit two weeks ago, the number of demonstrators dwindled daily, falling from a high of one million at the peak of the protest movement to roughly 5,000 at the end of the week. Earlier, the decisive struggle for China’s immediate future took place about eight kilometres away in a nondescript office block on the city’s western outskirts. There, the country’s divided leadership was locked in a titanic power struggle which may well determine the course of the world’s most populous nation well into the 21st century. And at week’s end the hard-liners appeared to have won.

Leading the assault on Communist party moderates—who had been willing to negotiate reforms with the protesting students—was the 84-year-old, chain-smoking senior party leader Deng Xiaoping. According to party sources and European diplomats, Deng strongly denounced his one-time protégé, party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, and his liberal faction within the hierarchy. Deng accused Zhao of forming an “antiparty clique,” of actively “fanning disorders,” and of having direct links with the “counterrevolutionary ” leaders of the student rebellion. Then, said the same sources, Deng ordered Zhao and his fellow reformists placed under house arrest.

The signs of a hard-line victory emerged after a seesaw struggle for party supremacy.

After days of indecisiveness over how to implement a martial law declaration by conservative Premier Li Peng, the top military command issued a statement on May 24 declaring its readiness to take tough action. The next day, state-run television showed Li, relaxed and smiling, telling foreign diplomats that the government was in control of the situation. Diplomats late in the week reported that troops were moving toward the capital from various directions to reinforce the 250,000 soldiers already at the outskirts. Later, a broadcast statement ascribed to Wan Li, the reformist chairman of the National People’s Congress, who had earlier been detained at a government guesthouse after breaking short a North

American tour, sided with the conservative faction. Chinese intellectuals who had been enjoying days of heady freedom expressed concern that those days were over. Said one of them: “It is no longer safe to speak on the phone.”

Meanwhile, Deng remained behind the scenes. As chairman of the Central Military Commission, Deng rallied reluctant generals of the People’s Liberation Army. “It is better to shed a few drops of blood now to prevent greater bloodshed later,” he told them. In apparent response, the state radio on May 25 broadcast the military leaders’ announcement that the troops—who had shown marked hesitancy to intervene—must

be prepared to “suppress the chaos and restore public order.”

Despite that warning, the students in Tiananmen Square—which reeked of urine and garbage—remained boldly defiant for much of the week. And on May 27, student leaders called for one final mass demonstration before ending their occupation of the square. Just days before, about 50,000 demonstrators had paraded with banners bearing slogans that included “Publicly try the political hooligan, Li Peng.” Some demonstrators said then that

they still believed that Zhao’s moderate faction would prevail. But Zhao had not been seen in public since May 19. And on May 26, state television broadcast a speech by 84-year-old retired Politburo member Chen Yun, which appeared to be an attack on Zhao. Said Chen: “We must expose the plot hatched in secret by a very small number of people. This chaos has not come about by chance.”

Among other senior party figures who appeared to be losers in the power struggle was Defence Minister Qin Jiwei. He had reportedly opposed the declaration of martial law and his signature was significantly missing from the military leadership’s warning that the troops were preparing to take action.

The neutralization of Wan Li was a particularly damaging blow to the political reform

faction. From Toronto, Wan had reportedly sent a telegram to Beijing condemning the declaration of martial law as unconstitutional. Then, he flew on to Washington, where he met President George Bush on May 23, and decided to fly home because of the emergency. Insiders said that he had planned to convene the People’s Congress, a basically powerless body, albeit one that still could have called for Li’s resignation. But upon his return, Wan, 73, was detained by local authorities—for what they described as “medical reasons.” At week’s end, a statement aired on state radio and television quoted Wan saying, “After I had time to study the situation, I realized that a small minority was behind a plot to cause turmoil in society.”

As the leadership crisis unfolded, the stock market in neighboring Hong Kong reacted sharply. When the conservatives appeared to be gaining control, it dropped by 339 points, the largest singleday fall since the Black Monday Crash in October, 1987. Hong Kong residents are especially sensitive to events in China, which takes over the territory in 1997 after British rule expires. Uncertainty over the colony’s future has already led to a substantial flight of both capital and people to other countries, including Canada. On May 21, the day after China’s martial-law declaration, about a million people—one-sixth of Hong Kong’s population—marched in protest. Said Szeto Wah, a liberal member of the colony’s legislative council: “If the leadership in Beijing 5 won’t allow an open dialogue £ with their students, how can I we expect them to let Hong z Kong enjoy democracy?”

The upheaval endangered China’s own economy, as well. Apart from a massive loss of production because of nationwide demonstrations, there was also a danger of a decline in foreign investment. An economic downturn could increase the social unrest which transformed what began as a traditional student protest into a mass movement embracing all sections of China’s 1.1-billion-strong population. To prevent that, it seemed likely that the conservatives would take whatever action is necessary to decisively end the weakening rebellion. But the demonstrators had clearly increased the nation’s appetite for freedom, and not even the army may be able to control that hunger for long.

JOHN BIERMAN

LOUISE DODER

JOHN KEATING