Interview: 'Tiananmen Was An Important Opportunity'

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In a screen grab from a video interview, Lee Teng-hui speaks with RFA in Taipei, Taiwan on June 2, 2014.
In a screen grab from a video interview, Lee Teng-hui speaks with RFA in Taipei, Taiwan on June 2, 2014.

Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui headed the island's government from 1988-2000, presiding over its transition to democracy and becoming the first-ever directly elected president in his second term. While he chaired the ruling Nationalist Kuomintang party, Lee promoted local Taiwanese culture at the expense of the political elite who had fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland in 1949. He spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about the 1989 military crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy movement in Beijing, which came soon after he took power.

Q: What is your view of the events of June 4, 1989?

A: On the 25th anniversary, I think it's necessary to understand the nature of the student movement. The students weren't doing this for personal gain; this had nothing to do with it. They wanted to find a solution for the country, and social stability. And they ultimately wanted freedom and democracy. Their idea was that this would make the country better. It had nothing to do with personal interests, at the beginning.

Many people say that because the opponents of the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party were no longer able to speak out, that the party was able to maintain stability thus far, and that the economy continued to grow. That was Deng Xiaoping's line.

But I think that to say this is to misunderstand the situation. If there had been a peaceful and stable end to the student movement back then, the economy would likely be even better developed today. So such arguments are mere illusion and speculation.

I became president in 1988, just before the 1989 incident, so I was very concerned with the situation at the time. The mainland Chinese government had shut down the flow of information coming out of Beijing, because they didn't want the rest of China to find out the truth about what happened.

Places like Nanjing, Sichuan, Guangdong and others didn't really know what had transpired in Beijing. Our view was that we should make many more people know what had become of the student movement in Beijing, so we used a lot of methods like faxing the information to Nanjing, Sichuan and places in southern China, so the people of China would understand the situation.

I had no objection to the Chinese students initiating this action. I wanted to encourage them. Chinese leaders should take the attitude of listening to young people, and thinking about what they are asking.

Young people are the future leaders of society, and the Chinese Communist Party should have developed them. As I said earlier, their actions weren't based on selfishness, but were on behalf of their country and society.

In my view, it would have been better not to have suppressed them. Everyone is looking back this year, on the 25th anniversary, and remembering their struggle.

Tiananmen was an important opportunity in the history of China's development, but the communist regime responded by violently suppressing it, thinking that this would bring it more stability. But I don't think it turned out that way.

Reported by Lee Tung for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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