Int'l Herald Tribune

There's trade, and there's Tiananmen

Jonathan Mirsky International Herald Tribune
Thursday, October 14, 2004

London -- Someone should tell President Jacques Chirac of France what Zhou Enlai said when Henry Kissinger asked him for his judgment on the French Revolution. "It's too early to say," Zhou allegedly replied.

This might make Chirac reconsider his recommendation last week that the European Union should lift the arms embargo it imposed on China after the 1989 Tiananmen killings on the argument that "that was another time." That was what Chirac said on the eve of his trip to China, which ended on Tuesday.

His perspective was promptly discredited on Sunday when Jean Michel Jarre was to perform at a gala concert in Beijing's Forbidden City. Jarre intended to appear with China's famous rock star Cui Jian, but the authorities barred Cui from attending. During Tiananmen, the demonstrators sang his songs.

As Zhou might have said, 15 years is but a moment for an event still as neuralgic in China as Tiananmen. Condemned as a "counterrevolutionary" or "criminal rebellion," the uprising remains so important that retired prime minister Li Peng, widely reviled in China for his leading role in crushing the Tiananmen demonstration, found it necessary last August to declare, "In the spring and summer of 1989, a serious political disturbance took place in China. With the boldness of vision of a great revolutionary and politician, comrade Deng Xiaoping along with other party elders gave the leadership their firm and full support to put down the political disturbance using forceful measures."

This was understood to be Li's way of not taking the solitary rap if some future Chinese leadership ever repudiates Tiananmen.

Amnesty International estimates that hundreds of Tiananmen demonstrators or their supporters are still in jail.

Professor Ding Zilin, whose son was killed on the night of June 4, 1989, has mobilized 200 fellow Tiananmen mothers who lost children and vainly demand reparations and the right to publicly mourn. The mothers are constantly harassed by the police and removed from Beijing on the anniversaries of the killings. Police stationed near the few known graves of Tiananmen victims drive off relatives and journalists.

In May, Dr. Jiang Yanyong, the elderly army doctor who exposed the 2003 SARS epidemic, wrote an open letter to China's leaders about the bloody chaos in his hospital in June 1989. The regime, he said, "in a frenzied fashion, using tanks, machine guns and other weapons, suppressed the totally unarmed students," whom he described as innocent patriots fighting corruption. After his letter was published all over the world, Jiang was moved out of Beijing for several weeks and prevented from traveling abroad.

China's Internet is regularly monitored by the security services with equipment obtained abroad, and punishment awaits those who use the Web to commemorate Tiananmen. On June 3, 2000, Huang Qi, for example, was arrested in Chengdu - the west Chinese city that Chirac visited last week - and sentenced to five years for posting articles about Tiananmen on his Web site. Several dozen other Internet users are behind bars for similar offenses.

Chirac should not be chastised merely for his dismissal of Tiananmen. His China-watchers must have informed him of Beijing's disgraceful human rights record. Demonstrators are regularly detained for protesting against their houses being pulled down so that profiteering officials can build new apartment buildings. Trade unions, except for the tame organization appointed by the government, are forbidden, and police frequently break up strikes and arrest their leaders. Farmers who protest against onerous taxes that go into the pockets of local officials face detention.

In the Xinjiang region, Muslims who call for autonomy are branded as terrorists (a tiny minority have committed outrages) and imprisoned if they publicly voice or publish their demands.

The same is true for Tibet, where Beijing shuts away monks, nuns and ordinary citizens who praise the exiled Dalai Lama, referred to by the authorities as a "criminal splittist" although for years he has asked for nothing more for Tibet than a degree of internal autonomy.

Was Chirac's eagerness to sell $4 billion worth of French products to China so great that he forgot that France's own revolution, about which Zhou Enlai was so cautious, called above all else for liberty?