Wednesday, May 14, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: The Eve Of Gorbachev's Visit

Beijing students had launched their hunger strike in Tiananmen Square two days before the state visit of Soviet leader Gorbachev. Their action had not been reported in New York Times until the eve of the summit. Quite ironically, even then, they only got a brief mention in a story about Zhao Ziyang winning the power struggle on May 14, 1989:

More than 20,000 spectators watched in Beijing's Tiananmen Square as more than 1,000 university students staged the strike in the middle of the square. Some students said they would remain until Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, arrives on Monday for the first Chinese-Soviet summit meeting in 30 years.

But the story was about Zhao Ziyang:
An unannounced Politburo meeting has endorsed the moderate line of the Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang, toward student demonstrators, including more discussions with the students and limited steps toward greater democracy, Chinese with high party connections say.
The situation remains extremely unsettled, as the debate over recent student demonstrations continues to reverberate through the leadership and exacerbate the power struggle here. However, three Chinese familiar with the Politburo proceedings say that the result of a tense meeting held on Wednesday and Thursday in the capital was to strengthen Mr. Zhao's faction, favoring more rapid economic and political change over one preferring a more cautious path.
The result, at least for now, is a reversal in the fortunes of Mr. Zhao, whose influence had slipped greatly over the last year and reached its nadir at the beginning of the student protests last month. Many of the students had worried that their demonstrations might lead to his dismissal.
There was also a hint of the softening in government's stand:
Mr. Deng did not attend the Politburo meeting, but he did send a statement in which he seemed to support the moderate approach. He also indicated that his earlier warning on April 25, calling for a crackdown on student demonstrators, was based on misleading information apparently supplied by the Beijing City Communist Party authorities, a party official said.
The support of Mr. Deng and the Politburo - actually an enlarged meeting of the Politburo, including some provincial leaders - is a crucial respite for Mr. Zhao. But party officials said that the struggle continues and noted that there are rumors that Mr. Deng will make major personnel shifts after the Chinese-Soviet meeting next week.
In a separate story, Nicholas Kristof observed that Gorbachev had become the unlikely hero of democracy in China:
When Mikhail S. Gorbachev arrives on Monday for four days of talks designed to restore normal relations between China and the Soviet Union, he will be cast in the unusual role of champion of democracy.
It is the role that American Presidents like to fill, but there is much more anticipation in China's democratic movement today than there was on the eve of President Bush's visit in February. Almost everybody seems to think that the Soviet leader's visit will do more for democracy in China than Mr. Bush's trip did, and some believe that the Soviet Union will do more than the United States to inspire political liberalization in China.

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