Bao Tong, a former top aide to late former premier Zhao Ziyang, served a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 military crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square. Since his release, state security police have had him under continual surveillance and frequent house arrest at his Beijing. RFA's Cantonese Service caught up with him on Wednesday shortly after he managed to attend a behind-closed-doors meal for retired government officials.
RFA: Where were you allowed to travel to today, what was the occasion?
Bao Tong: It was mostly elderly people in their eighties and nineties. There weren't too many [state security police] watching us. We were able to communicate freely with each other. Some of them were under surveillance the whole time, but they weren't prevented from coming. I knew that wherever I went there would be people following me, but they never actually stopped me from going in to a specific hotel, nor did they actually come in and try to listen to what I was saying.
RFA: What do you think of the current political climate in China?
Bao Tong: The government has never asked me for my opinion, and I have never offered it to them [directly] in the form of a suggestion. Things have gotten pretty tense lately, but actually, there's no need for that. If everybody relaxed a bit, then everything would just normalize again. This would benefit everyone, not just ordinary Chinese citizens, but officials as well. Whether or not they can achieve such a thing is another matter.
RFA: Some people are worried that the new round of crackdowns under President Xi Jinping could take China back to another Cultural Revolution. What do you think about that?
Bao Tong: I don't think that'll happen. The conditions aren't in place for another Cultural Revolution. We had Mao Zedong back then, but we don't have him now, do we? There hasn't been a single leader since Mao who had it in their power to launch such an unprecedented phenomenon, and I don't think there ever will be again. Even if Mao were to rise from the dead and try to launch another political mass movement, I don't think it would happen
That's my personal view, and I don't know what others think about it. What we need right now is more leniency, not more tension. I think all of this tension has been caused by a misjudgement. We should be able to live normal lives in a normal society. There's no need to ratchet the tension up so high. I really think they should ease off a bit.
RFA: Some people have said that your criticism of the system from within the system isn't doing the next generation any favors. What do you say to them?
Bao Tong: I don't think for a minute that I am more capable than the younger generation. I think they are more thoughtful and careful in many ways. And, I don't believe that things just keep getting worse in the long-term.
RFA: Where did you eat today?
Bao Tong: I won't tell you the name of the hotel, because I don't want to give them free advertising.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lam Lok-tung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.