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   L I N E   O F   F I R E

But Beijing is missing the point. America expects more from China in part because of its ancient and civilized history. Americans find it repulsive when Beijing, claimant to that heritage, behaves in a thug-like manner toward those with different views, including defenseless youths and intellectuals who cannot possibly pose any serious threat to the 50-million-strong Communist Party.

Beijing often cites Russia's recent history as "proof" that democracy is wrong for China. But this ignores vast cultural and historical differences. The Russian experience with total central planning persisted far longer than did China's. And the Russian economy is now dominated by ex-KGB agents and gangsters; China's is freer. Beijing also says democracy is unsuitable for a country that has had to endure 5,000 years of feudalism. (That's one of Premier Zhu's favorite sound bites; listen for it in the U.S.) But Taiwan's thriving democracy shows the fallacy of that argument. Beijing's recent moves to lock up a few people who tried to form a political party--a right supposedly guaranteed by the Chinese constitution--betrays acute insecurity (not to mention stupidity) among China's leaders. It is conduct unbecoming of a great nation. If honest elections were held today, does anyone doubt the Communists would win? Historically it is governments, not students or the common people, who are the source of upheaval and chaos, for they alone have the power to implement disastrous policies.

To gain the respect Beijing feels it is unfairly denied, it must stop its pettiness toward its own citizens and level with them. The legacy of the Communist Party is one of brutality against its citizens. The bloody suppression of the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989 is but a footnote compared with the tens of millions who died during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Neither Chinese President Jiang Zemin nor Premier Zhu had anything to do with those murderous policies, and they should consider coming clean with the Party's sordid past if they want a place in history.

The Germans have apologized for their Nazis, though no current leaders were themselves responsible for past atrocities. Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui has similarly apologized for the Kuomintang's massacre of thousands of Taiwanese in 1947. Leaders of both societies have gained universal respect for their moral integrity. Japan lacks that in Asia precisely because it refuses to forthrightly address its past. The magnanimity of those in power toward political opponents is not weakness. President Nelson Mandela of South Africa has successfully advocated public reconciliation between black citizens and their former white oppressors, while South Korean President Kim Dae Jung forgave his predecessors who wanted him killed. Both nations are nobler for it.

If Beijing ever finds the moral backbone to come to terms with its past, Chinese leaders like Zhu will find in future visits to America a welcome warm beyond their boldest wish. Unfortunately, that day still seems far off.

PAGE 1  |  2




Daily

April 12, 1999

Difficult Mission
When Zhu Rongji arrives in the United States, he will have to traverse the minefield that Sino-U.S. relations have become


Two-Way Street
Beijing is getting fed up with U.S. carping


Madman or Messiah?
China's Prime Minister has always skated the thin line between success and disgrace



This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home

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