Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Bush's Pyongyang policy 'futile' - Robert Gallucci, Clinton era negotiator

There's an interesting if mixed BBC article here, reporting an interview with Gallucci, who was a state department ambassador-at-large, assigned to North Korean relations from 1993* and therefore the primary negotiator for the US in the aftermath of the 1994 crisis in which the US nearly launched an attack on North Korea:
Ambassador Gallucci was the architect of former US President Bill Clinton's administration's policy which persuaded Pyongyang to freeze its weapons programme in return for the provision of power generating reactors.

But this deal collapsed, in large part due to North Korea's actions.

But Ambassador Gallucci says that since then there has been no coherent strategy from the Bush administration in Washington.

Tensions between the State Department, on the one hand, and the Pentagon and the vice president's office, on the other, have hobbled US policy, leading to what he called the most distant of negotiations between the US and North Korea.

There are important omissions and misrepresentations in the BBC article:

1) the 1994 crisis is not mentioned, nor how close the US came to attacking North Korea. Straight into the memory hole.

2) the claim that the deal with North Korea collapsed "in large part due to North Korea's actions" ignores the fact, acknowledged by Gallucci elsewhere (see the end of this post), that the US didn't fully comply with the deal. Respectable academics specialising in the region think that the US administration decided not to keep their side of the bargain because they thought that the North Korean regime would fall before the US had to build the power plants that they had agreed to. Also into the memory hole.

3) the blatant one-sided editorialising: 'Dealing with North Korea is one of the most intractable problems facing any US administration.' Perhaps so, although they at least have the option of a strategic withdrawal - North Korea poses no threat to the US. On the other hand, it is unarguable that dealing with the US is one of the most intractable problems facing any North Korean administration, but the writer feels no need to say this. And there's no discussion of the problems faced by the general population of the Korean peninsula, who continue to live in highly militarised societies, with the real threat of nuclear war, and divided families and communities.

Extract from 2003 PBS interview with Gallucci, in which he admits that the North Korean government kept to the framework, and the US breached the agreement in ways he considers minor.
There are those now who have come forward from the Clinton administration, saying that the deal was basically abandoned by the United States. That's perhaps too strong, but that there was a lack of political will to enforce the Agreed Framework, that in fact, the complaints coming from North Korea that the United States dragged its feet and reneged have some validity.

My own view here is -- and there are disagreements about this -- that in the Clinton administration, there wasn't the enthusiasm for everything the North Koreans wanted, in terms of the political payoff from the deal. So the North Koreans were somewhat disappointed. But let's be clear about this. There are hard and soft portions to deal. A hard portion was they needed to have their program frozen, and under inspection, and they needed to re-can the spent fuel so it wasn't reprocessed. That was done.

Did they hold to their end of the agreement in that sense?

Absolutely. Absolutely. On our side, in terms of the hard part, so did we. We were obligated to create an entity called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, an international entity -- which was really South Korea, Japan and the United States, and eventually, the European Union -- to build these 2,000-megawatt light-water reactors. That program didn't go as fast as the North Koreans might have liked. But it's a big deal doing that in North Korea. That was a hard point in terms of the deal, and we were doing that.

We also had to deliver a quantity every year of something called heavy fuel oil to provide energy replacement for what they were giving up with not having their own nuclear facilities. Did we meet every delivery schedule on the day? No. Did we generally meet the schedule, and were we generally providing what we said we'd provide? Yes. So in terms of the hard performance under the framework, both sides were doing it.

* These details are from a previous PBS interview, from 1996, as Galluci was preparing to retire.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Kim Sun-il killed in Iraq

The awful details are here. According to another article, also at the Chosunilbo, Kim Sun-il was executed as soon as it became clear that the South Korean government was not prepared to negotiate with the kidnappers over the deployment of troops to Iraq:
A source familiar with events on the ground in Iraq said, "I know that the group that kidnapped Kim presented certain conditions to start negotiations to free the hostage... I know this wasn't a question of money, but the cancellation of plans to send troops to Iraq as initially presented on al-Jazeera TV."

The source said, "The kidnappers have been, from the very beginning, a political organization uninterested in money, and I know that they hung preconditions on the talks that didn't involve money, but said that if the Korean government talks about withdrawing plans to send troops, negotiations could begin... These were conditions the Korean government could not accept, and accordingly, as soon as it appeared negotiations would go nowhere, the group made an extreme choice."

China & UK conduct joint naval exercises for first time

Accorrding to an extremely brief article in the Guardian yesterday, the navies of China and the UK have been conducting exercises together.

There's fuller coverage on CNN

The drills were the latest the People's Liberation Army -- the world's biggest military with 2.5 million men and officers -- has held with forces from other countries, including France in March and Pakistan and India last year.
The exercises were the first between the two countries since Britain switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing 50 years ago, China's Xinhua news agency quoted a Defence Ministry spokesman as saying.
In another first, Beijing-based military attaches from 15 countries were invited to observe the exercises, involving the Exeter and the British replenishment ship RFA Grey, off Qingdao city. [Ex-German treaty port in East China, where Tsingtao beer comes from.]

The British vessels and China's guided missile destroyer Harbin and replenishment ship Hongze Lake conducted search and rescue operations as well as helicopter manoeuvres, Xinhua said.
The Exeter will conduct similar exercises in Japan and Russia.

China and France held naval exercises in March.

China held naval exercises with Pakistan last October -- its first ever with a foreign country.

Not coincidentally. the UK's PM Blair and France's President Chirac are both reported to be in favour of dropping the EU embargo on sales of weapons to China, which dates back to the massacre in 1989.

China Daily also has a report on this, remarking, oddly:

"It is the first Sino-British maritime exercise in the non-traditional security field"

If anyone knows what they meant by that, I'd be happy to hear.

North Korea blog

North Korea zone is an informative, requently updated weblog about North Korea. Recent posts include links to articles about Kim Jong Il's arrival in Korea aged around 3 or 4 in 1945, and references to academic papers about hidden South Korean aid to the North (Park Hyeong-jung."A Stepwise Scenario for Rebuilding the North Korean Economy." East Asian Review Vol. 15, No. 4, Winter 2003) and the involvement of some groups on the Japanese left in North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens (Patricia Steinhoff. "Kidnapped Japanese in North Korea: The New Left Connection." The Journal of Japanese Studies - Volume 30, Number 1, Winter 2004, pp. 123-142.)

Slightly off topic, one of the contributors reports first-hand from China on the restrictions on web access there - the site that hosts the blog,, is blocked there: perhaps blogspot is too.
Of course, there is no internet access at all for the vast majority of people in North Korea, even people who work in the computer industry.

Kidnapping of Kim Sun Il; Korean public opinion

The deadline given to the South Korean government by the captors of Korean translator Kim Sun Il has already passed. He is apparently being held by the same group that murdered Nick Berg last month. There is an AlJazeera aticle here and an BBC article here.

According to this article, 'Public Turns Against Deployment after Kidnapping' on the Chosunilbo, South Korean public opinion is moving further against the deployment of Korean troops in Iraq.
Negative public sentiment about the additional dispatch to Iraq is on the rise with the kidnapping of Kim Sun-il by an armed group in Iraq. The portal site conducted an emergency Internet vote on the additional dispatch of Korean troops to Iraq. 63.2 percent of the total 1,612 respondents answered that they oppose it while 33.2 percent supported the dispatch.

This compares with a survey carried out last October which found that:
48.6 percent supported the dispatch while 47.4 percent opposed it, with those [in support] slightly in the lead.

At that time, no Korean troops had been sent to Iraq or - publicly at least, promised. The promise came later, with Donald Rumsfeld's visit to East Asia last November.
Now there are somewhere between six and seven hundred Korean troops in the south of Iraq at Nasiriya and last Friday the Korean government reaffirmed its committment to send another 3000 troops, who will be deployed in northern Iraq, in predominantly Kurdish areas.

There has been considerable protest in Korea against the sending of troops to Iraq, including, recently, demos and vigils on Saturday reported in the LA Times
As the 24-hour countdown to the deadline began, hundreds held a candlelight vigil in Kim's hometown of Pusan to pray for his release. In Seoul, a similar vigil turned more political as antiwar activists said they hoped the incident would turn a largely apathetic nation against the Iraq dispatch.

"This makes the war in Iraq reality for many people," said Noh Ju Yeon, a 23-year-old student who was one of about 1,000 people marching in Seoul.

This same report also has another opinion poll:
Polls show South Koreans deeply divided about the troop dispatch, with even those in favor grudgingly describing it as a regrettable burden necessitated by the United States' historical role protecting the country against communist North Korea. A recent poll by the daily newspaper Hankook Ilbo showed 57% opposed to the dispatch, as opposed to 40% in favor.

... and comments, accurately:
South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, who was a vocal opponent of the Iraq war before taking office last year, said today that his country will go ahead with plans to dispatch 3,000 troops to Iraq in August.

Heavy pressure has been put on the centrist government of South Korea to send troops to Iraq and keep them there. For the moment, at least, the countervailing pressure of public opinion has not been strong enough to force a withdrawal. In fact the South Korean general public are rather well-informed about the motives of the US, and of those who are in favour of the deployment of troops to Iraq, many must be reckoning that this is the price that has to be paid to keep the US administration from aggression towards North Korea, as the LA Times article hints by talking about a 'regrettable burden'.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

China, repression and East Asian capitalism

The suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 was a victory for the Chinese Communist Party, but not, of course, for Communism - not in Marx's sense of 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', nor in the sense of the totalitarian system developed in the USSR shortly after the 1917 revolutions and imitated (with alterations) in China.

From the late 1970s China has been on a different path under Deng Xiaoping towards what is sometimes called developmental capitalism, with political control still in the hands of the party and the army but some economic power moved to investors. During the same period the Chinese economy has grown rapidly - more than 9% last year - and the gap between rich and poor has widened to a huge gulf.

A Spectator article points out that the massacre of June 4th 1989 allowed the Chinese regime to keep all of its political power while 'liberalising' the economy. Notoriously - but not notoriously enough - there are no free labour unions in China and freedom of movement is restricted: the article notes the system of permits for travel inside China but does not mention that permits are also needed to leave the country.

This is undoubtedly bad news for the people of China, and also, less obviously, for the Western economists who claim that increasing prosperity is bound to lead to political freedom and democracy. This is the premise behind the Spectator article and the reason why its writer finds the continuing lack of democracy in China newsworthy.
There is still a feeling that although Tiananmen Square put things back for a bit, all that economic liberalisation must be followed by political freedom somewhere down the line, and that constructive engagement, as it used to be known when South Africa was the issue, will help it along.
In fact, the only thing that's wrong with the thesis that is supposedly being questioned by events in China is that it is all complete nonsense. The history of the 20th century is full of counter-examples, a number of them in East Asia.

A caveat is needed here though. The author of the article makes it very hard for himself to shed real light on what is happening in China by assuming that there are only two systems in competition here: capitalism and Communism. He also seems to think that China's development in modelled on US capitalism.

Powerful people in China no doubt admire America's wealth and power and would like to catch up and even overtake the US. But that doesn't mean that they do economics the American way, any more than they plan to base their politics on the US constitution. Their model is East Asian developmental capitalism, practiced by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, in which there is no clear separation between the higher levels of business, government and the bureaucracy. Investment is channeled towards strategic industries by preferential loans made by supposedly private banks following guidance from central government. In these countries the economic system is kept afloat by the high percentage of household income which ordinary people put into savings accounts and the high prices that they pay for many commodities because of import barriers.

Among political economists of East Asia this is pretty well understood, since these countries have done extremely well over the last 60 years while neighbouring countries under US influence such as the Philippines and Indonesia are basketcases (to use the technical term). What is more, none of these countries made their rapid economic gains under multiparty democracy. The rightwing parties which came to power in the aftermath of WWII in these countries were all still in power in the early 90s; South Korea and Taiwan were military dictatorships during this time and Japan was effectively a one-party democracy.

This is the model that China is following, and it doesn't just allow for a strong or totalitarian state, it probably requires it.

A separate question is whether the prosperity produced by this model will lead to or is even compatible with pressure for change. The precedents are mixed. In South Korea and Taiwan the mid-90s finally saw an end to one-party rule and military dictatorship and a transition to a sytem more like Japan's (although huge demonstrations continue to win concessions, particularly in Korea). In Japan, protest movements have been dedicated but without great public support since the student and labour movements were crushed around the late 60s.

(Codicil: of course the US capitalist model also relies on state handouts to corporations, and politically the US is well short of proper democracy. I don't have the time now to look in detail at the differences between this and the Japanese model, but it is clear that they are different and I think there is little doubt which option China's rulers have chosen.
I'm also keeping out of the debate about whether China's economic system before the 70s was 'state capitalist' - as Rocker described the USSR - or 'coordinator controlled centrally planned public-enterprise' as Michael Albert might put it.)

Thanks to Alex Higgins for pointing out the Spectator article, and noting that it says that Blair wants an end to the EU arms embargo against China. Blair loves modern China, clearly wishes he had as much control over the UK and will go to great lengths to avoid displeasing China's rulers. Refusing to meet the Dalai Lama the other week when he was in the UK (Blair was 'too busy') must have been the least he could do.
I have been critical of the Spectator article here but I agree with Alex that "In describing how right-wing the Chinese Communist Party has become, and how both Western capitalism and Maoist totalitarianism complement each other in a rather ugly alliance, ... it is broadly correct in its argument."

Friday, June 11, 2004

Amnesty asks Japanese gov't not to force anthem or flag on schools

Japan Today has a short article about Amnesty Japan's request.

Amnesty International Japan urged the Japanese government Wednesday not to force schools to honor the Hinomaru national flag or "Kimigayo" national anthem because it runs counter to freedom of thought, conscience and expression as guaranteed under Japan's Constitution.

The request was made after Yokichi Yokoyama, head of the Tokyo metropolitan government's education office, said Tuesday that school teachers would be required to instruct students to stand and sing the national anthem together at graduation and enrollment ceremonies.

Previously, the Tokyo government has said that it will punish school teachers who do not stand during the anthem: commentary on this decision from the Asahi Shimbun (a centrist newspaper) is available at ZNet.
The board of education of the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to reprimand about 180 teachers at metropolitan senior high schools and schools for disabled children. The government claims the teachers disobeyed the board's orders and behaved "unprofessionally" during graduation ceremonies held in March-simply by refusing to stand while the national anthem was being sung and other actions.

A mass punishment like this is unheard of. In addition, the circumstances that led up to it were exceptional.

Here is a list of things the board required of all metropolitan schools: The national flag must be placed at the front of the auditorium stage; all teachers must stand and face the flag; all must sing the national anthem.

To check whether its rules were observed to the letter, the board sent officials to schools to monitor the graduation ceremonies. These official eyes certainly carried out their mission diligently, having identified so many "offenders."

A quick scan of the auditorium is all that is needed to see if anyone remains seated when everyone is supposed to be standing. But the Tokyo school board was thorough enough to demand every school submit a seating plan of where each teacher was to sit. This made it easy for the board's officials to identify each silent offender.

As another article on ZNet says,
"The singing of Japan's national anthem Kimigayo, an ode to the emperor, and the flying of the Hinomaru flag, both evocative of Japan's colonial era, have become flashpoints of conflict in recent years as the Japanese government presses to reincorporate these controversial emblems in a variety of public events. Nowhere has the conflict been more intense than in the public schools.

Until 1999, Japan had no official national anthem or flag - they were abolished after the defeat of the military government by the US in 1945 - although the hinomaru and kimigayo were used de facto. But it was difficult for the goverment to force anyone to sing the anthem or salute the flag while they were unofficial. Since the 1999 national flag and national anthem law was passed, that has changed, although arguably as much because of a political shift in Japan's parliamentary opposition to the right as because of the change in the law.
In August 1999 a national flag and national anthem law was enacted, and thereafter the pressure and attacks on public schools which did not fully implement this new law became fierce. The promise in the Japanese Diet not to make it compulsory was ignored, and the Japanese constitution, which ensured freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, was effectively subordinated to the 'Guiding Principles in Education.'

I think that this matters very much. Teachers are having their human rights trampled on, and children are learning some harsh lessons, as the Asahi article notes: "Here's what happened at one school this year: The pupils belted out Kimigayo more loudly than ever before, having practised it over and over because the principal had told them, "If you don't sing well, your teachers could be punished."
But there's more to it than this: reassertion of nationalism is at the top of the agenda, with Japanese troops part of the occupation of Iraq in violation of the constitution, and prime minister Koizumi constantly dropping remarks about amending the constitution. The facist element in Japanese politics is no longer confined to the marginal right groups and the governing LDP but well represented also in the main opposition party, the DPJ, following the realignment of Japanese politics during the 90s that almost wiped out the social democratic SDP.
Japanese activists are fighting back - and for the moment the front line is defended by teachers like Sato Miwako - "As far as I am concerned, on this issue alone I will die before giving in" - and students at her school:
After the ceremony, many of the graduates gathered in the schoolyard from about noon and questioned the principal. Why, they wished to know, was the Hinomaru which had not been raised heretofore raised this year. The principal replied that it was so written in the "Guiding Principles in Education," that its absence in the past was out of the ordinary, adding that there are some things that one simply cannot explain to children. The students, however, were not persuaded.

Human Rights Watch: Free Jiang Yanyong and Hua Zhongwei

Jiang Yanyong, the doctor who was abducted by the Chinese government on June 1st and his wife, Hua Zhongwei, are still missing. Human Rights Watch called for them to be freed immediately.

Dr. Jiang, 72 years old, and his wife Dr. Hua Zhongwei, have been heard from only once since government agents arbitrarily detained them on June 1 while en route to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to obtain a visa.

Dr. Jiang's detention appears to have been part of the government's crackdown on critics ahead of the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. He had publicly called for a reexamination of the events surrounding the massacre. Several dissidents were harassed and effectively subjected to house arrest.

On June 1, Drs. Jiang and Hua left their home in an official hospital car and were expected back in two hours. They have not been seen since. On June 4 one of the couple's children received a note from Dr. Hua saying they were fine, but suggesting that the family not plan for their usual summer vacation. On June 8 officials notified their son he should deliver some of his father's personal belongings to Chinese authorities. Such requests generally signal a release is not imminent. No criminal charges have been filed against Dr. Jiang and his wife.

The Chinese government (or elements within it, at least) have had it in for Dr. Jiang since April last year, when he exposed their cover up of the extent of the SARS epidemic as discussed here at the weekend.

Chinese authorities previously targeted Dr. Jiang in April 2003, when he challenged the Health Ministry's assertion that only 19 people in Beijing were suffering from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. Dr. Jiang's report that there were at least 170 known cases forced the ministry to publicly reveal the extent of the epidemic.

Human Rights Watch said that immediately after the SARS revelations, authorities began shadowing Dr. Jiang and monitoring his communications. In February 2004, he wrote a private letter to the National People's Congress and other Chinese leaders detailing what he witnessed during the Tiananmen massacre. In his letter, he proposed "that we must correctly characterize the students' patriotic movement on 4 June 1989."

In the wake of the letter, Chinese officials clamped down even harder on Dr. Jiang. He has been pressured continuously to admit that writing the letter was a serious political mistake.

Authorities at his place of employment, the No. 301 People's Liberation Army Hospital, demanded he receive permission before attending even social events. Officials screened all visitors to Dr. Jiang's home and quizzed him after some guests departed. He was told he could no longer treat patients at other facilities without No. 301's assent. Hospital authorities went so far as to send a "minder" along when he traveled to Xinjiang to treat an old patient.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Deaths, health and safety and labour rights in China

Almost every day, and certainly at least once a week, I read about people dying in China in an accident in a factory, or the collapse of a building or bridge. Today there were two of these tragedies on the news wire: an explosion in a fireworks factory in Jiangxi, killing sixteen, and the collapse of a bridge in Liaoning, killing an unknown number of people.

China firecracker blast kills 16 (BBC article)

Sixteen women workers have been killed in an explosion at a fireworks factory in eastern China's Jiangxi province, the official Xinhua agency says.

At least three other workers were hurt in the blast, the cause of which has not been determined.

The blast in the city of Pingxiang reportedly scattered gunpowder and left a crater measuring 80 square metres.

China's government has tried to crack down on illegal and unsafe firework factories.

Many of the workers are poverty-stricken villagers who endure great health risks.

Attempts to regulate the firework industry were made three years ago, when an explosion in a village in Jiangxi province killed 42 people, many children amongst them.

China is the world's largest manufacturer of fireworks.

Road bridge collapses in China (BBC article)

A bridge has collapsed in north-eastern China sending at least three vehicles plummeting into the river beneath.

There is no information on the number of casualties, but two people have swum ashore after surviving the fall, according to the Xinhua news agency


The director of public security at Tianzhuangtai suggested heavy truck traffic may have led to the collapse.

But our correspondent in Beijing, Louisa Lim, says corruption in the building sector and poor quality control have in the past been blamed for such disasters.

The BBC's correspondent is right but could have said more. Chinese people are dying and suffering injuries practically every day because of corruption, and also because there are no independent labour unions in China and very little scrutiny of government by non-governmental campaigning organisations. The first article may be correct in saying that the government has tried to crack down on illegal factories, but workers are not safe while they are prevented from organising to fight dangers and exploitation themselves.

There have been large labour protests in several regions of China, suppressed fairly brutally, with activists jailed, for example: "In May 2003, after charges such as contacting the foreign press and trials lacking basic procedural safeguards, Liaoning province labor activists Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang were given seven and four-year sentences respectively." (from Human Rights Watch China overview) They have since been reported to be in poor health.

When China's leaders visit other countries - and when our leaders go to China - we have to make sure the focus is put on their utter disregard of labour rights as well as other human rights like freedom of speech and movement.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Japan to introduce jury system

Some good news for once, although jury trials will only be for a small minority of crimes. The bill was passed by the House of Councillors last Friday, and the new system will take effect in 2009.
At present, all cases in Japan are tried by judges. The percentage of people tried who are found guilty is in the high 90s, so a lot of innocent people must be going to prison. An article on Japan Today, a useful news site, says:

The law stipulates six people will be selected per case to work with three professional judges at a district court in court hearings. They are expected to decide a verdict and sentence by a majority vote.

I think random selction is an excellent way of guaranteeing representativeness, not just for trials, but for legislative bodies too, although that's been out of fashion for quite a while.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Alex Higgins on June 4th massacre

Alex Higgins has an excellent piece on his Bring on the Revolution blog about the massacre in Beijing on June 4th 1989. As he points out, it's not strictly correct to call what happened the Tiananmen Square massacre. I've reproduced the whole piece here because there's no way to link to individual items on his blog and it takes a while to find it - at least if you're on dial-up, because he posts lots of pictures. But go and read his blog anyway - as you can see, it's beautifully written and very well-informed.

In Hong Kong, pro-election protestors have been preparing for the 15th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army's massacre of people trying to liberate themselves in Beijing in 1989. In the rest of China, protest is somewhat more difficult.
The massacre is usually referred to as the Tiananmen Square massacre in the West and we have become familiar with the idea of PLA soldiers gunning down students in Beijing's famous plaza, but, as a report by Robert Marquand for the US news magazine, the Christian Science Monitor highlights, much of this imagery is incorrect. There is very little evidence of much killing in the Square itself - the slaughter actually took place in the back streets of Beijing.
US historian Jonathan Spence describes the movement emerging from students and reformist Communist Party cadres at the Party history department in Beijing university who were inspired both by the reformist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang and Mikhail Gorbachev to campaign for liberal political reforms. In addition, their movement was swelled by popular support in Beijing itself and also by massive rural discontent.
The situation grew problematic for the regime as it struggled to contain the reform movement, and the dismissal of Ziyang, followed by a visit from Gorbachev in May 1989 prompted the occupation of Tiananmen Square by protestors.
The Square became a festival of free speech and millions of people passed through it at one point or another, representing all manner of different interests across China. When Gorbachev arrived, the square was so packed he couldn't walk through it. Most people in Beijing strongly identified with the student movement:
"The people loved the students because they could see the students loved China," one school teacher who lived near the square remembers now. "That was the thing. We didn't think of them as anticommunist. We could see they were patriots who were for democracy. But after[the massacre of] June 4, we could no longer say this."
As the students carried on their protest and held hunger strikes, they received support from the city's workers who provided water, assistance with sanitation, medical supplies and gestures of solidarity.
By this time, the regime, with Party Chairman Deng Xiaoping most especially adamant, was preparing to smash the movement through extreme violence. Troops were moved out of barracks and units were brought in to China's capital from outside - an acknowledgment that Beijing soldiers might be unprepared to kill their citizens as required.
By early June, the protestors occupying the square had become confused and divided. Many were already fatigued and wished to leave and their numbers were steadily dropping. Some wanted a confrontation with the regime, others were determined to avoid one and others still just did not believe that the PLA would kill them. Most foreign reporters had left by this point, many withdrawn to Hong Kong and Tokyo. Many of the original students had left and been replaced by students from outside Beijing.
During the night the confrontation began as students put up blockades around Beijing, setting fire to vehicles. Robert Marquand's investigation informs us that the massacre began on June 3rd as troops began killing protestors outside the square: "It took place at street intersections, in Hutong neighborhoods, in the alleyways around the square, and in the western part of the city, where resistance to the deployment of the Army was strongest." Citizens of Beijing were enraged at the deployment of troops against the students and courageously challenged the army in their tens of thousands.

In Tiananmen Square itself, at 4 o'clock in the morning, the army surrounded the protestors from three sides, from the Forbidden City of the emperors, the Great Hall of the People and the History Museum - and those in the square began to realise what was coming. Nonetheless, around 2,000 protestors gathered round the monument to democracy they had built and sang the socialist anthem, the 'Internationale'. Protestors wore headbands with the message 'Ready to Die'. Then the lights on the square went out.
According to Robin Munro of Human Rights Watch - who was there - the leader of the Peking Students Autonomous Federation declared, "We will now pay the highest price possible, for the sake of securing democracy for China. Our blood will be the consecration." But the student leader Hou Dejian dissented, calling out over a megaphone, "We have already won a great victory. But now we have to go."
The student leadership negotiated and arranged an orderly withdrawal and between 2,000 and 3,000 protestors filed off from the square in the early hours of the morning. They walked out peacefully and the protest came to an end.
This behaviour is quite typical of governments trying to destroy popular movements. They rarely wish to face thousands or millions of people on the march head on. So they create a standoff and negotiate a truce and let the movement walk away.
Then they start killing, without mercy. It's an old trick and it works (and people ask why politicians are mistrusted). Estimates of the death toll between June 3rd and June 6th range between 900 and 2,000+. June 1989 marked the beginning of a nationwide campaign of repression of popular movements that lasted right through the 1990s.
Gorbachev's visit in May helped to focus international media attention on Beijing ensuring that when the massacre took place, it did not pass unnoticed (unlike the Caracazo in Venezuela that year in which as many people died but is completely ignored).
And much international outrage followed, including loud public condemnations from the US government and media. Privately, however, the Bush Senior administration had a somewhat different response. Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy establishment stalwart with business interests in China stated bluntly his own view:
"China remains too important for America's national security to risk the relationship on the emotions of the moment. ...No government in the world would have tolerated having the main square of its capital occupied for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators."
Oh, the effrontery of it! Those students were occupying the government's capital city!
Bush Sr. then dispatched his National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to represent the US government in discussing US-China relations. Scowcroft is a business asscoiate of Kissinger's - it is unlikely that their views greatly diverged. What sanctions were implemented against the Chinese regime were swiftly removed in 1991 to obtain Beijing's support for the first Gulf War. The Bush family's own business ventures in China remain undisturbed.
Britain's own former PM and virtual ambassador to Britain from Beijing responded to a question from the BBC's Jeremy Paxman about the massacre by spluttering, "Well, of course this just like the British. It's the only thing you can bring up and we're the only country that still does bring it up." (Actually, we don't - Blair is notoriously supportive of the regime in Beijing).
On another occasion Heath said: "There was a crisis in Tiananmen Square after a month in which the civil authorities had been defied and they took action about it very well (pause) We can critise it in exactly the same way as people criticise Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland."
Indeed. Now which Prime Minister was behind the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry? Oh, Edward Heath.

The Chinese government has never admitted to any wrongdoing during this episode. Bring on the revolution...

Obituary of William Hinton, author of Fanshen

When I did the search on The Guardian's website for the Tiananmen Square post, I found that I had missed this obituary (May 24th) of William Hinton, author of 'Fanshen', a classic account of the Chinese Communist party on the verge of control of China. In 1947 Hinton was sent by the UN to teach in a Guomindang (nationalist) controlled area but crossed over to Communist-run territory, where he took notes on his experiences of land reform and the civil war. When Hinton returned to the US, the notes were "impounded by the senate internal security committee". After a long legal battle to get them back, they were written up and eventually published in 1966.
According to the article, Hinton stayed a supporter of the regime through the murders and lynch mobs of the cultural revolution, although

... he was deeply disillusioned by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, which he observed on the spot, driving through the suburbs of Beijing to check on the advance of the army. His daughter by his first marriage, Carmelita Hinton, born and educated in China, later co-produced The Gate Of Heavenly Peace (1996) - a challenging film about the massacre.

The writer of the article, John Gittings, was The Guardian's China correspondent for years and has written several interesting books about China, including:

The Role of the Chinese Army Gittings, John, 1981 Greenwood Press,London

and Real China Gittings, John, 1996 Simon & Schuster

Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre

(from the Victims of Tiananmen Massacre image page on

Friday 4th was the 15th anniversary of the massacre of activists after protests in Tiananmen Square. I can't add much to what has been said by many people, but I can provide some links:

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, on Wikipedia, a participatory web encyclopaedia.

The Guardian's Jonathan Watts on the Chinese government's abduction of activists to prevent protest on the anniversary.
Jiang Yanyong, [the doctor who exposed the SARS cover-up last year and] a leading democracy campaigner, was reported missing along with his wife by their daughter yesterday.

He is likely to be among dozens of people - including elderly mothers, young dissidents and ailing reformers - put under house arrest or taken out of Beijing by security agents. [...]

The clampdown on commemorations of the massacre - unreported in the domestic media - has led to the detention of dozens of people, including the mothers of students killed by soldiers in 1989.

"There are police outside my house who won't let me leave until after the anniversary," said one, Ding Zilin. "It would have been my son's 32nd birthday today. I have ordered a cake because I want to celebrate; I'm very proud of what my son tried to do."

Hu Jia, who was a teenager in 1989, has been arrested three times this year for trying to lay flowers in Tiananmen Square. Since March 22, he says, four public security agents have prevented him from leaving home.

"I will light some candles here to remember what happened," he said. "The Communist party is trying to split up activists, to prevent us from uniting, but the truth cannot be covered up. When the control is strictest, the urge to rebel grows stronger."

But at Beijing University few people were aware of today's anniversary. "Most young students don't know about Tiananmen because the media never raises the topic," a postgraduate said. [...]

Memories are clearer in the Liu Bu Kou neighbourhood, where residents provided food and drink to the students in 1989 before the tanks and soldiers opened fire.

"It was a terrifying time," a resident said. "One man in this street was shot dead just for putting his head out the window to see what was going on."

"We all wanted change. We still do but everyone is too scared to do anything now. Students can't fight tanks - but we can hope."

The Guardian also has a selection of quotes from the New York Times and Asian newspapers about the anniversary and an Associated Press report reporting detentions in Beijing and "vigils, marches and hunger strikes in Hong Kong, Washington and Taipei."

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Public and the media at odds over NK abductions

There's been a huge amount of coverage in the Japanese press of PM Koizumi's visit to North Korea and the subsequent release from North Korea of some family members of Japanese citizens (who had themselves been abducted and held for many years by North Korea). The Western press has also covered the story. One aspect of interest is the media reaction to public opinion about this issue. This BBC article is typical:

For two years the issue has dominated Japanese politics and diplomacy and forced the government to give top priority to reuniting the families.

"The issue just doesn't lose traction," says Gerald Curtis, visiting professor from Columbia University.

"It draws on a sentimentality, an emotionalism and a feeling of Japan as one big family."

It seems that the public concern for the human rights of the abductees and their family members must be explained - in fact, explained away. Typically for Western comment on Japan, the explanation is 'cultural'. The suggestion is that Japanese people are irrational in seeing this issue as important.

Some people have more hard-headed priorities, and the writer of the article seems to approve:

Mr Koizumi hoped that bringing back the children would finally let Japan get beyond the abduction issue and focus on the very real security threat from North Korea.

It's unlikely that Koizumi thinks that North Korea presents a great security threat to Japan, since he presumably listens to defence analysts. The threat is probably no worse than the threat to Israel from Iraq in 1991, in my opinion - North Korea has the ability to shoot a few missiles at Japan, probably with little accuracy - as they demonstrated by firing one over northern Honshu in the late 90s.

On the other hand, public interest in the fate of the abductees must be irritating to Koizumi and to Japanese elites in general, since it stops them making their own goals the top priority in Japanese-North Korean relations. It's not easy to say if this is generally a good thing, though, since different members of the Japanese elite have different and conflicting aims, including increased trade with North Korea, full armament of Japan and appeasing the current US administration.