Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Document of 1989: President Bush's Secret Letter to Deng Xiaoping

On June 20, 1989, after his attempt to call Deng Xiaoping directly failed, President Bush hand-crafted a  letter himself, initiating a secret top-level contact with China as his attempt to preserving the US-China relationship. Deng Xiaoping responded immediately to the letter.

This letter was later published in Bush's book All the Best (It was also published in A World Transformed, but with more omissions):

His Excellency Deng Xiaoping
People's Republic of China

June 20, 1989

Dear Chairman Deng:

I write this letter with a heavy heart. I wish there were some way to discuss this matter in person, but regrettably that is not the case. First, I write in a spirit of genuine friendship, this letter coming as I'm sure you know from one who believes with a passion that good relations between the United States and China are in the fundamental interests of both countries. I have felt that way for many years. I feel more strongly that way today, in spite of the difficult circumstances.

Secondly, I write as one who has great respect for what you personally have done for the people of China and to help your great country move forward. There is enormous irony in the fact that you who yourself have suffered several reversals in your quest to bring reform and openness to China are now facing a situation fraught with so much anxiety.

I recall your telling me the last time we met that you were in essence phasing out of the day-to-day management of your great country. But I also recall your unforgettable words about the need for good relations with the West, your concerns about "encirclement" and those who had done great harm to China, and your committment to keeping China moving forward. By writing you I am not trying to bypass any individual leader of China. I am simply writing as a friend, a genuine "lao pengyou."

It is with this in mind that I write you asking for your help in preserving this relationship that we both think is very important. I have tried very hard not to inject myself into China's internal affairs. I have tried very hard not to appear to dictating in any way to China about how it should manage its internal crisis. I am respectful of the differences in our two societies and in our two systems.

I have great reverence for Chinese history, culture and tradition. You have given much to the development of world civilization. But I ask you as well to remember the principles on which my young country was founded. Those principles are democracy and freedom--freedom of speech, freedom of assemblage, freedom from arbitrary authority. It is reverence for those principles which inevitably affects the way American view and react to events in other countries. It is not a reaction of arrogance or of a desire to force others to our beliefs but of simple faith in the enduring value of those principles and their universal applicability.

And that leads directly to the fundamental problem. The early days of the student demonstration, and indeed, the early treatment of the students by the Chinese Army, captured the imagination of the entire world. The wonder of TV brought the details of the events in Tiananmen Square into the homes of peple not just in "Western" countries but world-wide. The early tolerance that was shown, the restraint and the generous handling of the demonstrations, won world-wide respect for China's leadership. Thoughtful people all over the world tried to understand and sympathize with the enormous problems being faced by those required to keep order; and, indeed, they saw with admiration the manifestation of policy which reflected the leaders' words: "The Army loves the people." The world cheered when Chinese leaders were seen patiently meeting with students, even though there were "sit ins" and even though disorder did interfere with normal functions.

I will leave what followed to the history books, but again, with their own eyes the people of the world saw the turmoil and the bloodshed with which the demonstrations were ended. Various countries reacted in various ways. Based on the principles I have described above, the actions that I took as President of the United States could not be avoided. As you know, the clamor for stronger action remains intense. I have resisted that clamor, making clear that I did not want to see destroyed this relationship that you and I have worked so hard to build. I explained to the American people that I did not want to unfairly burden the Chinese people through economic sanctions.

There is also the matter of Fang Lizhi. The minute I heard Fang was in our Embassay, I knew there would be a high-profile wedge driven between us. Fang was not encouraged to come to our Embassay, but under our widely-accepted interpretation of international law we could not refuse him admittance.

In today's climate I know this matter is of grave importance to you and I know it presents you with an enormous problem; a problem that adversely affects my determination and, hopefully, yours to get our relationship back on track.

We cannot now put Fang out of the Embassay without some assurance that he will not be in physical danger. Similar cases elsewhere in the world have been resolved over long periods of time or through the government quietly permitting departure through expulsion. I simply want to assure you that we want this difficult matter resolved in a way which is satisfactory to you and does not violate our commitment to our basic principles. When there are difficulties between friends, as now, we must find a way to talk them out.

Your able Ambassador here represents your country firmly and faithfully. I feel that Jim Lilley does the same for us; but if there is some special channel that you would favor, please let me know.

I have thought of asking you to receive a special emissary who could speak with total candor to you representing my heartfelt convictions on these matters. If you feel such an emissary could be helpful, please let me know and we will work cooperatively to see that his mission is kept in total confidence. I have insisted that all departments of the US government be guided in their statements and actions from my guidance in the White House. Sometimes in an open system such as ours it is impossible to control all leaks; but on this particular letter there are no copies, not one, outside of my own personal file....

I send you this letter with great respect and deep concern. We must not let this important relationship suffer further. Please help me keep it strong. Any statement that could be made from China that drew from earlier statements about peacefully resolving further disputes with protesters would be very well received here. Any clemency that could be shown the student demonstrators would be applauded worldwide. We must not let the aftermath of the tragic recent events undermine a vital relationship patiently built up over the past seventeen years. I would, of course, welcome a personal reply to this letter. This matter is too important to be left to our bureaucracies.

As I said above, I write with a heavy heart; but I also write with a frankness reserved for respected friends.


George Bush

Document of 1989

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