B E I J I N G, Jan. 9, 2001 -- China branded as fakes today newly publisheddocuments exposing Chinese leaders’ squabbles over the crushing ofthe 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and suggested their release wasaimed at destabilizing the country.
In the first official reaction to their weekend release in theUnited States, China’s Foreign Ministry labeled the documents assimilar to previous efforts abroad to rekindle controversy over thedivisive crackdown in which hundreds were killed.
“Any attempt to play up the matter again and disrupt China bythe despicable means of fabricating materials and distorting factswill be futile,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said in astatement carried by the government’s Xinhua News Agency.
Pressed by foreign reporters at a briefing later today, Zhuleveled more direct accusations.
“I have already indicated here that these are fabricatedmaterials that distort facts,” Zhu said. “How much clearer wouldyou have me be?”
Zhu defended the crackdown as “highly necessary to thestability and development of China.” He added that the rulingCommunist Party’s “correct conclusion” about the 1989 protestswould not change.
Supposedly smuggled out of China by a disaffected civil servantand vetted by U.S.-based China scholars, the documents — dubbed the“Tiananmen Papers” — purportedly contain minutes of secrethigh-level meetings, intelligence reports and phone conversationsby party patriarch Deng Xiaoping.
The documents — if authentic — show a leadership in turmoil overthe million-strong democracy protests and their suppression on June4, 1989. Their release threatens to aggravate ever-present strainsamong reformist and conservative factions in the party and reawakendebate over political change.
“The publication of these high-level decisions on the June 4suppression will be positive, not only for a just resolution, butalso for accelerating the advance of China’s democratization,” 111people wounded and relatives of some slain in the crackdown said ina statement from New York-based Human Rights in China.
Ever since the crackdown, the government has maintained that theprotests were an anti-government rebellion that needed to becrushed to safeguard economic growth — a view now supported by manyChinese who have benefited from free-market reforms.
But public resentment also lingers, especially in Beijing. Thecrackdown saw hundreds killed and thousands arrested. The actualtoll is not known because the government has never allowed acredible inquiry.
Initially, the government had no comment about the documents andChina’s wholly state-run media did not report them. But news of thepapers leaked into China via the Internet, foreign radio broadcastsand word of mouth, stirring the beginnings of debate.
Chinese Web site censors sought to silence the discussion. Onemessage that detailed CNN’s coverage of the documents was deletedwithin minutes of appearing on a popular chat site. But othermessages got through. Excerpts from the papers and students’comments also were posted on a Beijing University Web site.
“To know whether the Tiananmen Papers are true or not, justlook at them on an overseas Web site and judge for yourself. ... Ifone has done no wrong why fear other people knowing?” one surfersaid in a Web posting on the popular Sina.com portal that was laterdeleted.
Calls for Justice
The papers confirm popular perceptions that Li Peng, then thehard-line premier and now chairman of the legislature, argued forthe crackdown. They also reveal how communist elders led by Dengimposed martial law, ousted reformist party chief Zhao Ziyang andreplaced him with Jiang Zemin, now China’s president.
Human rights groups and victims of the crackdown who have longtargeted Li said the papers could help bring him to justice. NewYork-based Human Rights in China hoped the papers would bring Li afate similar to Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, internationally houndedto account for his brutal rule.
The very ability of someone, or a group of people, to collectthe sensitive documents and spirit them out of China show that somewithin the Communist Party support political change and want theTiananmen crackdown re-examined.
“Maybe the person who carried the documents is not a veryhigh-level official, but quite senior leaders must have known aboutthis,” said Wu Guoguang, a former aide to Zhao and a Chinesepolitics scholar in Hong Kong.
Pressure on Freedoms
But Bao Tong, also an adviser to Zhao and the most seniorcommunist official imprisoned for the crackdown, said the documentscould forestall political reform.
“It’s possible some people will be scared and therefore say‘politics cannot be reformed, news must continue to be blocked off,rights must be stripped away to an even greater extent,“‘ saidBao, who spent seven years in prison and another year detained in aguest house for leaking word of the crackdown.
But Bao also said the documents would be a revelation to amajority of today’s government officials who were not privy to theleadership battles of 1989.
“It will make them reconsider how this incident happened, whatkind of problem it was, what kind of society China’s is, what kindof system we work under, what procedures and systems are used inChinese decision-making, how did Tiananmen happen and how can weavoid a recurrence?” Bao said. “Everyone will be bound toconsider these questions.”