CHINAS HARDLINERS SOLIDIFY CONTROL, BUT ESCAPED DISSIDENTS VOW TO CONTINUE THEIR STRUGGLE
China’s public enemy No. 1 emerged from hiding last week with defiant words for the country’s hard-line leaders. In a dramatic 18-minute videotape released in Hong Kong, Wuer Kaixi, the 21-year-old student leader who went underground after soldiers crushed the prodemocracy movement in Beijing on June 4, branded China’s rulers “a band of fascist, reactionary warlords.” Looking pale and drawn in the videotape, Wuer—one of more than a dozen dissident students and intellectuals who evaded a nationwide manhunt and escaped China—choked back tears as he recalled the terror in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. “We were so peaceful, we were so naïve,” he said of his fellow demonstrators, as many as 3,000 of whom may have been killed. “We never thought the shamelessness and viciousness of those wild beasts would go to such an extent.” He added: “The lives of those classmates and countrymen who died for democracy, for freedom and for our beautiful motherland have melted into ours. We must focus our will and continue the great patriotic democratic movement to the end.”
According to Hong Kong sources, Wuer and other escaped dissidents were planning to form a prodemocracy movement in exile in the West and announce their manifesto at a news conference on July 4—Independence Day in the United States. But while Western news media focused on Wuer last week and Western governments—including Canada—announced further sanctions against Beijing, China’s newspapers gave front-page coverage to an unyielding speech by the country’s paramount leader, 84-year-old Deng Xiaoping. The June 9 address, published for the first time on June 28, defended the army’s crackdown on the prodemocracy movement, which Deng called a “counterrevolutionary rebellion.” The release of the speech came just four days after a formal shakeup of China’s leadership that left hardliners firmly in control.
Meanwhile, Chinese leaders warned of a purge of liberals at all levels of the 47-million-member Communist party. And following the defections to Western countries of about 20 Chinese diplomats and embassy staff since the Tiananmen massacre, Beijing recalled ambassadors from around the world for a July 7 meeting. Said one Western diplomat of China’s leadership: “They are sparing no effort to show that the country is united behind the crackdown.”
On June 24, the Communist party’s Central Committee officially dismissed reformist General Secretary Zhao Ziyang—who had opposed the use of force in Tiananmen Square—and replaced him with conservative Shanghai party chief Jiang Zemin. In his first public speech since his appointment, Jiang, 62, said last week that harsh measures would be used only against “a very small number of bad people.” He added, however, that most prodemocracy student protesters would have to undergo political re-education.
But London-based human rights group Amnesty International issued a statement saying that it fears for the lives of hundreds of people arrested since the Tiananmen massacre. China has acknowledged at least 33 executions since June 21. Unofficial reports claim that hundreds of detainees may have been secretly put to death. Calling for more sanctions against Beijing, Amnesty denounced what it called “the well-known official practice in China of ‘verdict first, trial second.’ ”
Other denunciations of Deng’s repressive measures continued unabated from world capitals. At the end of a two-day summit in Madrid, leaders of the 12-nation European Community announced a series of new sanctions including a suspension of arms sales and high-level diplomatic contacts, postponement of new co-operation projects and the extension of visas for Chinese citizens in Europe. And in Ottawa, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark announced retaliatory measures. They include the withdrawal of government funding from three development projects in China valued at $9.1 million; the downgrading of Canada’s trade representation in Beijing; and the creation of a $ 1.5-million fund to help Chinese students in Canada. “We want to make clear that it will not be business as usual,” Clark said. At the same time, he added, “We must try to avoid measures that would push China toward isolation.”
In Washington, the House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation to impose tougher sanctions on China. In part, the legislation would require President George Bush—who has already cut off arms sales and high-level diplomatic contacts with Beijing—to suspend foreign aid support for Chinese trade and development and halt exports of nuclear equipment that can be used for military purposes. Arguing that the existing sanctions were adequate, Secretary of State James Baker said that the administration does not support the House’s bill. But New York Democratic Representative Stephen Solarz, who helped draft the bill, said that it steered a careful course between the proposals of those who would sever relations with Beijing and of others who “did not want us to take any action lest we disturb the sleep of Deng Xiaoping and perhaps drive the Chinese into the arms of the Soviet Union.”
Apparently unmoved by the increasing international pressure, the steering committee of China’s legislature endorsed the Communist party’s suppression of dissent as “legal, correct and necessary.” As well, officials strove to convince critics that life has returned to normal in China. The foreign ministry invited diplomats to a watermelon festival in Beijing—although few attended. And while Tiananmen Square remains off limits to pedestrians, two adjacent parks and the balcony of the Gate of Heavenly Peace reopened to the public on July 1, the 68th anniversary of the Chinese Communist party.
Still, many observers detected a current of danger beneath the veneer of calm. Martial law remained in force, with no indication that it will be lifted soon. In Beijing, bursts of unexplained gunfire could be heard on most nights last week, and heavily armed soldiers guarded major intersections. Moreover, the tense situation took a potentially ominous turn with a mysterious explosion aboard a passenger train outside Shanghai which killed 24 people. Although there was no clear link between the explosion and China’s political turmoil, some officials claimed that the blast was an act of sabotage. Said one Western diplomat: “Whether or not this was caused by underground sympathizers of the democracy movement, it provides an ideal pretext for yet another turn of the screw.” For prodemocracy sympathizers both in and outside China, those painful twists are becoming commonplace occurrences.
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