`Fear of collapse’ bars reassessment of Tiananmen crackdown

June 3rd, 2009 - 8:55 am ICT by IANS  

Taipei, June 3 (DPA) China’s Communist Party fears any reassessment of the brutal suppression of the 1989 democracy movement could undermine its rule over the country’s 1.3 billion people, two leaders of the protests said.
“A reassessment of June 4 will be the start of political reform, and nobody knows what the result will be, and nobody wants to take this risk,” said Wang Dan, now a US-based scholar who was a student leader in 1989 and a founder of the China Democracy Party.

He spoke on the approach of the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown, which reportedly left hundreds of unarmed civilians dead in central Beijing when the army moved in on the protesters in Tiananmen square with tanks and live ammunition. The party continues to justify the action as necessary to guarantee China’s social stability and economic development over the past two decades.

“Even including (retired leader) Jiang Zemin and (current president) Hu Jintao, they all know it was a mistake, and they all know sooner or later, there will be a reassessment, but nobody takes responsibility,” Wang told DPA in Taiwan recently.

“They don’t have the confidence,” he said.

“Secondly, there are still strong opposition forces inside the party even for Hu Jintao, so he does not want to give any excuse for these opposition forces,” Wang said.

Taiwan-based Wu’er Kaixi - another exiled leader of the 1989 protests, which called for democracy as well as social and political rights - said that ordinary Chinese people are also worried about the possibility of disorder if the party begins democratic reforms.

“Chinese people are very, very worried about China sinking into chaos,” said Wu’er Kaixi, who now works as an investment banker.

“I want China to have a very smooth evolution towards democracy,” he said.

However, he also urged the party and the people not to fear a probable “bumpy road” to democracy.

“Trying to avoid that bumpy road has cost us more that the groping through would cost us,” he said.

Chinese leaders often repeat the party’s official position that it would implement “gradual” democratic reform by allowing limited village elections and more openness in government affairs as well as improving the rule of law.

They appeal to the Four Cardinal Principles associated with former leader Deng Xiaoping, who said that the most important of the four principles was to “uphold leadership by the party and to keep to the socialist road”.

Deng was China’s paramount leader in 1989, and his ideology is enshrined in the party’s constitution along with that of Mao Zedong, Jiang and Hu.

A reassessment of the 1989 crackdown would imply a questioning of Deng’s legacy, similar to the re-evaluation of Mao after his death in 1976.

In February 2007, Premier Wen Jiabao reiterated the party’s position that multiparty democracy could not be allowed for many decades because China’s economic development must continue to take precedence over political reform.

“We are still far from advancing out of the primary stage of socialism,” state media quoted Wen as saying.

“We must stick with the basic development guideline of that stage for 100 years,” he said.

Many dissidents continue to press for immediate democratic reforms, and it seems unlikely that ordinary Chinese would be prepared to wait 100 years. The dissidents pin their hopes on Charter ‘08, issued in November and calling for sweeping changes to create a “free, democratic and constitutional state”.

The charter is modelled on the Charter ‘77, written by intellectuals in the former Czechoslovakia, and links its blueprint for change to the 1989 democracy movement.

The dissident writer Liu Xiaobo was arrested in November and is believed to be facing subversion charges for organising the charter.

“Today, the detention of Liu Xiaobo represents the most visible symbol of the government’s ongoing hostility to those involved in the 1989 protests and to any form of organised opposition,” US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report on the 20th anniversary of the protests.

The 303 initial Chinese-based signatories of Charter ‘08 were joined later by exiled dissidents, including Wang.

Wang and Wu’er Kaixi both reject the party’s arguments that China is not ready for democratic reforms and that the dissidents’ views of democracy are “Western”.

“The essence of democracy is individualism,” Wu’er Kaixi said.

“It’s equality, participation, freedom of expression, division of power,” he said. “… None of these is so Western that it is incompatible with China.”

Wang agreed that democracy is founded “on basic human rights”.

“If democracy is not suitable for China, why did they fight for that in 1949?” he asked, referring to the Communist Party’s victory in the Chinese Civil War and founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The process of re-examining 1989 and allowing other moves toward democracy need not involve the party giving up power, Wang said.

“Even for us (dissidents), we don’t think that ordering a reassessment of June 4th means that the Communist Party will step down,” he said. “That’s not necessary.”

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