June 4 Reversal Not Seen Soon

Activists say the outgoing Chinese premier is unlikely to lead a reappraisal of the 1989 crackdown.

Zhao Ziyang (C) addresses the Tiananmen Square student hunger strikers in Beijing, May 19, 1989.

Veterans of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy demonstrations have expressed doubt that China's reform-minded premier Wen Jiabao will succeed in spearheading any change in Beijing's position on the military crackdown on the night of June 3 in Beijing.

Officials have characterized the demonstrations as "political turmoil," charging participants with "counterrevolutionary activity," and have ignored growing calls in recent years for a public reckoning with the crackdown.

Former 1989 student leader Chen Ziming, one of the "black hands" blamed by the authorities for the mass protests that took over Tiananmen Square for several weeks, said he thought any revision of the official verdict on the crackdown would be unlikely ahead of a key leadership succession at the 18th Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party later this year.

However, he did imply that a reappraisal was at least imaginable now.

"If you had asked me two years ago, I would have put the probability of [a reassessment of Tiananmen] at a few percent," Chen said in response to recent reports that Premier Wen has been pushing behind the scenes for a change in the government's attitude to the bloodshed. "Now, I'd say it was at about 20-30 percent."

No form of public memorial has ever been held for those who died when the People’s Liberation Army cleared thousands of protesters from the center of the city, and police regularly clamp down on any form of public protest around the June 4 anniversary.

However, Chen said he had been told by official sources that there was broad support for a reappraisal of the crackdown among Party cadres at the local level.

"For a high-ranking official such as Wen Jiabao to share this opinion obviously means the possibility does exist," he said.

Maintaining stability

Meanwhile, Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu, who was jailed for her part in the protests, said she thought recent reports were more speculative than informative.

"It has been 23 years since June 4, and it should be addressed," Gao said. "But they are keen to maintain stability ahead of the 18th Party Congress, and they are implementing controls on freedom of expression and putting preventive measures in place."

She said that following the recent ouster of Chongqing Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai, authorities were also anxious to ensure that the more left-leaning members of the Party didn't cause trouble.

"They don't want the left to come out onto the streets and they won't let the people sing red songs," Gao said. "I can't see any sign that a reappraisal of June 4 is in the cards."

She said such signs might include allowing the relatives of those who died in the crackdown to visit their loved ones' graves, to speak unhindered to the media, or to place memorial offerings in the places that they died.

"If they really were going to overturn the verdict on June 4, then surely the best time to do that would be just before the anniversary," she added.

Call for reappraisal

The number of people killed on the night of June 3-4 remains a mystery. China’s official death toll is 241, including 36 students.

The crackdown set off a wave of condemnation across the globe, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah, as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.

The Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown, and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government.

It has also called for a new investigation into the incident, "reasonable compensation" for victims' families and for those responsible to be held judicially accountable.

Spokeswoman Ding Zilin said she had trouble believing that Wen had expressed any opinion on reappraising June 4 in top-level meetings, as reported this week by London's Financial Times newspaper.

"If only he had," Ding said. "If only any of those leaders, never mind which one, could voice such a view."

"If they did, it would show that some of them at least still had some sort of conscience."

She said the group had written open letters to China's leadership every year, calling for the verdict to be overturned, but to no avail.

This week, netizens circulated a well-known news photograph showing ousted former premier Zhao Ziyang, whose political fall came amid a decision to send in the troops, visiting students on Tiananmen Square in 1989, holding a megaphone, and accompanied by a much younger, but worried-looking Wen.

The posts were soon deleted from social media sites and chatrooms.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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