Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: China: New words, same actions

Today -- June 4 -- is the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Looking back at the past 15 years, it is difficult to see the slightest indication on the part of the Chinese government to either come to a better understanding of the meaning of democracy and human rights, or to at least show some remorse or regret for brutally suppressing the student democracy movement.

However, it is true that Beijing has finally chosen to describe the bloody crackdown with milder and neutral terms. On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) called it "political turmoil," contrary to the typical characterization used by Beijing of "anti-revolutionary riot." However, this mere change of wording should not be interpreted as a change of attitude by Beijing, but as a result of discussions among EU members regarding the possible lifting of a 15-year old ban on arms sales to China that was imposed following the Tiananmen Square Massacre. It was reported earlier this week that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is likely to back France and Germany in urging the lifting of the ban. Beijing opted to adopt a milder and less high-profile stance so as not to ruin its chances of getting the ban lifted.

Of course this also raises the question: if there has been no change whatsoever in terms of Beijing's attitude toward either the Tiananmen Square Massacre or democracy and human rights, why lift the ban now? Shouldn't it be lifted only when its original purpose of compelling improvement from China in these areas has been accomplished?

Anyone who pays any attention to what Liu went on to say on Tuesday can readily see that the Chinese government has not changed one bit. Liu defended the crackdown on the students by saying that "[it] played a very good role in stabilizing the situation, which enabled China to develop its economy and make contributions to peace and development of the world."

This has been the consistent policy of Beijing since it ended the "closed-door policy" in the 1980s -- that is, to develop the economy and to evolve into a military super-power, but to say no to all demands for democratic reforms and respect for human rights.

This attitude is further demonstrated by its move to tighten its watch on political activists and relatives of victims of the Tiannanmen Square Massacre in the run up to the 15th anniversary of the incident. Secret police have been closely following these people, taping their phones, and even placing them under house arrest. The sole purpose of all this is to prevent any form of public memorial for the incident, which would only be interpreted as a challenge to the authority of the Chinese government. A countless number of political dissidents who participated in the demonstration in Tiananman Square, as well as their sympathizers, continue to be imprisoned in China. The US State Department expressed concern by openly stating its opposition to "efforts to limit freedom of speech" and urging "China to not restrict its citizens from engaging in debates on important and sensitive issues of public interests."

As for the people of Hong Kong, this attitude on the part of Beijing should not be surprising, because they have learned from past experience of China's complete rejection of any form of democratic reform and respect for human rights. However, it is too late for the people of Hong Kong to do much about it.

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