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Tiananmen whites

Whatever the Western world might have to say on the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown this week...

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
June 3, 2009 12:08:02 am

Whatever the Western world might have to say on the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown this week,the Chinese Communist Party would want to make sure that June 4 remains uneventful.

Reports from Beijing point to massive security precautions across China. Tested by the unexpected disturbances in Tibet last year and having seen through the Olympic Games without a major incident,the CCP leadership is determined to exercise full control over events this week.

The focus of the Chinese security agencies is not limited to preventing physical protests in public places. They are closely monitoring and blocking all hostile websites and trying to outsmart political opponents in the blogosphere.

Censorship has a long tradition in modern China,but the sheer volume of the Internet traffic makes it difficult to stamp out all undesirable activity. There will be a bit of the cat and mouse game on the web,but nothing that might shake Zhongnanhai,the sprawling campus in central Beijing where the Chinese leadership lives.

Meanwhile,there is some talk of ‘silent’ protests,but no one is betting on their making a big impression. Activists have reportedly urged Chinese to wear white — the traditional colour of mourning — onThursday in a gesture of respect for those who died in the pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Power balance

If rising levels of prosperity have mitigated the demands for political reform and democratisation at home,Beijing’s growing economic weight in the international system has made it a lot easier for the CCP to confidently ride through the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen.

The many top American leaders who are travelling through China this week have made it clear that they will hold their peace rather than confront Beijing on Tiananmen.

The powerful speaker of the US House of Representatives,Nancy Pelosi has for long been a big critic of China’s human rights record.

During a 1991 visit to Beijing,Pelosi had unfurled a banner that read “To those who died for democracy in China” on Tiananmen Square.

Pelosi is not the only one who will bite her tongue this week. So will the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee,John Kerry. For twenty years,the Democrats in the United States were at the forefront of the criticism of China’s political system.

Their silence today is an eloquent testimony to the changed balance of power between Washington and Beijing. If America was full of fire and brimstone twenty years ago,the current global financial crisis has revealed how deeply America is constrained from criticising China.

It is no surprise that the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner,also in Beijing this week,wants to please his hosts. After initially accusing China of manipulating its currency,Geithner beat a quick retreat as he understood Beijing’s expansive role in helping America get out of its current financial trouble.

In his first visit to China this week,Geithner is eager to reassure the Chinese leaders that their massive investments in American paper are safe. Geithner also teased the Chinese with an offer to give Beijing a larger role in the management of global economy.

Beijing is not biting. For now the CCP is asking hard questions about the state of the US economy and exploring long term options for reducing China’s American vulnerabilities.

Chinese sceptics

As Geithner landed in Beijing,the city’s new English daily Global Times published a survey of Chinese financial experts that challenged Geithner’s assurances.

Among the twenty-three economists polled by the Global Times,seventeen said US paper poses great risks to China’s economy. Many of these pessimists feared the United States may transfer its crisis to China by simply printing US dollars. The optimists,in a minority,insisted that when compared with the risks of investing elsewhere,the US paper was still the best bet for China.

On finding a way out,most Chinese experts felt that Beijing ought to expand its investment on tangible and strategic assets such as gold,grain,and oil. They also believed that Chinese enterprises should focus on acquiring valuable companies around the world.

The writer is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,Nanyang Technological University,Singapore

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