Fri, Jun 03, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Zhao Ziyang text pleads for democracy

TESTAMENT The 'Straits Times' reporter arrested in China was hunting the manuscript, which details the late purged leader's view that the communists should give up power

AFP , BEIJING

A secret manuscript that Beijing is trying to stop from being published outlines purged premier Zhao Ziyang's (趙紫陽) plea for the Chinese Communist Party to relinquish its absolute power and for China to follow the path of democracy.

It also airs Zhao's contention that the government blundered in its crackdown on the 1989 democracy protests that led to hundreds if not thousands of citizens being killed, author Zong Fengming (宗鳳鳴) said in an interview.

The sensitive manuscript -- now at the center of the arrest of Hong Kong-based Straits Times reporter Ching Cheong (程翔), who was detained while trying to obtain a copy of it, has yet to make its way out of China.

Chinese authorities have pressured Zong, an old friend of Zhao's, to not publish it.

Zong, 85, who compiled the manuscript from conversations he had with Zhao while he was under house arrest, said that what makes it so threatening to Beijing is Zhao's belief that China must have democracy and that economic reforms were simply not enough.

"He believed China's economic reforms need democracy, otherwise they will not work," Zong said.

"He said China's development must be on the path of democracy and rule of law. If not, China will be a corrupt society," he said.

Zhao, a former premier and Communist Party secretary-general, was purged for opposing the use of force to quell the unprecedented, six-week-long Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989.

He spent the rest of his life under house arrest and died of illness in January.

His death was limited to a few paragraphs in the state-controlled media as part of a campaign to erase his memory from contemporary life.

Zong, who was Zhao's qigong master, was one of the few people who had been granted access to him at his tightly guarded compound in Beijing.

Zong believes the government fears that if a book about Zhao's views were published and copies found their way back to China, it could have a detrimental effect on the legitimacy of the regime, turning Zhao into a hero even in death.

"They are afraid his influence will be broadened," Zong said.

Zhao's views run contrary to the path China's leaders are taking. While allowing economic opening to spur growth, the Chinese leadership is intent on maintaining one-party rule and quashing dissent or freedom of expression.

"The Chinese Communist Party now controls everything. Zhao Ziyang believed this does not work, this must change. Give some power to other groups, be it political parties, social organizations, trade unions or farmers' groups," Zong said, quoting Zhao.

"Currently there's no public supervision; whatever officials say goes. Zhao believed everything should be reported to the people," Zong said.

While Zhao did not rule out China scrapping one-party rule or adopting Western-style democracy, including elections, Zong said Zhao felt change should come gradually and be based on how society developed to avoid chaos.

Zong said the manuscript also reveals Zhao's inside knowledge of what led to the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, saying that Xinhua news agency reporter Yang Jisheng's (楊繼繩) secret interviews with Zhao published last year were true.

"I was there when he interviewed Zhao Ziyang," Zong said.

In Yang's book, Zhao firmly placed the blame for the crackdown on Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平).

Zong said Zhao argued during their interviews that, contrary to the government's account, there was no alternative but to use force and that the government had many chances to avoid bloodshed.

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