Monday, May 12, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Waiting For Gorbachev

The Soviet leader Gorbachev would be in China in a few days. On May 12, 1998, New York Times found a slight hint that his visit might not be a complete victory of the communist bloc:
When Mikhail S. Gorbachev strolls on Chinese streets during the summit meeting planned next week to end three decades of hostility between China and the Soviet Union, he is expected to face a snub so blunt as to remind him that there is still a chill in the air.
Mr. Gorbachev will have company when he visits Shanghai on Thursday, the final day of his four-day visit to China: three American warships are scheduled to sail through the city that afternoon and then dock for a port call.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced today that the warships would make ''a friendly and courteous visit.'' But the timing seemed carefully calculated to slight Mr. Gorbachev with a demonstration of Chinese-American friendship. Only once before, in 1986, has an American naval ship made a port call in China since the Communists came to power.
The arrival of the ships is just one sign of the lack of enthusiasm some Chinese officials seem to feel for the first Chinese-Soviet summit meeting in 30 years. Their wariness of the meeting, and of the normalization of relations that both sides say will follow, may reassure those Americans who have been concerned by the prospect of renewed ties between the two neighbors. Certainly, it seems to be the Soviets who are chafing at the moment.
In a separate commentary, Richard Holbrooke attempted to put the summit into historical perspectives:
They didn't plan it this way. The first Chinese-Soviet summit meeting in 30 years was originally designed to put the long-strained relations between the two largest Communist nations on a stable and more friendly basis, address disagreements accumulated over many acrimonious years and gain an advantage in the triangular relationship involving China, the Soviet Union and the United States.
Ten, or even five years ago, such a meeting could have rocked the world, and might have had a profound effect on the global balance of power.
Instead, with the greatest possible historical irony, Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping will meet in Beijing next week at a time when both of them, trying to reform Communism in order to save it, must focus on unprecedented internal upheavals.

Neither of them directly mentioned the on-going, but already calmed student movement. But in fact, the upcoming visit by Gorbachev had inspired students the most. Besides the fact that Gorbachev was regarded as a reformer who was transforming the rigid Communist system in his own country, the summit was expected to attract much international attention. It would be an attractive occasion for more protests.

At this moment, the decision to hunger strike had already been made, albeit in a manner that was disagreeable to many of the existing leaders. Chai Ling had delivered an emotional and personal speech that inspired dozens in Beida to sign up for hunger strike. Preparation was under way.

In the days to come, the rest of the world would be shocked.

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