Document Gives New View of Tiananmen
By Deb Riechmann
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, June 3, 2001; 1:17 p.m. EDT WASHINGTON The United States was "cozying up" to military hard-liners in China weeks before the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, the U.S. ambassador in Beijing charged in a cable sent shortly after hundreds died when Chinese troops attacked pro-democracy protesters.
In the cable to Washington, James Lilley criticized the Bush administration's decision to send three Navy ships to Shanghai to divert attention from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Beijing from May 15-18 of that year.
Already, demonstrators had gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to urge greater freedoms and an end to official corruption. Martial law was declared on May 20, 1989.
"The Chinese declared martial law against their own people in Beijing the day we were cozying up to their military in Shanghai," Lilley wrote, according to the newly declassified document being released Monday, the 12th anniversary of the crackdown.
Washington wanted to show the world that while Gorbachev was strengthening ties with Beijing, the United States was involved in military-to-military exchanges, but the timing was off.
"We had miscalculated on the timing and on the symbolism of the (Gorbachev) visit. Our attitude was a throwback to the early days of our relationship when common Soviet bashing was in vogue. We were not coping with or anticipating current realities," Lilley wrote on June 11, 1989.
Just weeks after Gorbachev's visit, Chinese troops were deployed against their own citizens in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Hundreds of civilian demonstrators were killed in the military action June 3-4 that ended seven weeks of protests.
Lilley's nine-page cable, stamped "secret," is one of 13 CIA reports and State Department documents being released by the National Security Archive, an independent research institute at George Washington University that works to get national security documents declassified.
In his cable, Lilley also expressed dismay at the decision to invite Fang Lizhi, a leading Chinese dissident, to a banquet that Bush had during his trip to China in February 1989. Chinese security forces prevented the dissident from attending the dinner, an incident that marred Bush's visit.
The dissident remains a "constant reminder of our connection to 'bourgeois liberalism' and puts us at odds with the regime here," wrote Lilley, whom President George H.W. Bush nominated as ambassador.
While Lilley supported certain economic sanctions that Bush imposed on China after Tiananmen Square, he wrote that he did not want to interrupt U.S. business in China, particularly the sale of commercial aircraft and satellite launch services.
Maintaining business ties does not mean that America is "rewarding the murderers of Tiananmen by selling Boeing aircraft for hard cash," Lilley wrote. "Let a thousand points of business decisions work in China based on our own businesses' realistic assessments of economic and political prospects for China."
The Bush administration favored trade with China, and less than four weeks after Chinese troops fired on civilians occupying the square, U.S. envoys went to China to tell Beijing that America wanted good relations.
Similarly, President George W. Bush is not letting U.S. economic policy toward China be affected by the April 1 collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet.
The current Bush administration suspended U.S.-China military contacts for a short time and is now approving them on a case-by-case basis. Meantime, on Friday, Bush asked Congress to extend for a year China's normal trade relations with the United States.
On the Net:
National Security Archive: http://www.gwu.edu/(tilde)nsarchiv/
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press