A YEAR after China's government turned the army's guns on the people, a spark of resistance still glows in Beijing. Having executed some Chinese, imprisoned many and sought to indoctrinate and intimidate many more, the authorities maintain a brittle calm. The other day, for instance, the three steady public critics of the regime in the capital were made to disappear from the scene. But at the anniversary of the massacres associated with Tiananmen Square, a vanguard sent a message that its thousands of exiled countrymen amplified around the world. Beijing University students, ignoring an official ban on protests, marched on campus and broke small bottles -- the Xiaoping in senior leader Deng Xiaoping's name means ''little bottle'' -- to indicate their view of the regime.
It has been a dismal year in China. While almost everywhere else in the Communist world, democrats, free-enterprisers and reformers of various stripes have struggled to build a more just society, Chinese party officials have isolated and burdened their country, insisting that it remain on a discredited socialist path. Lightening the repression only to make an occasional foreign show, they have stifled popular initiative and denied the benefits that popular organizations such as Solidarity and Civic Forum have elsewhere conferred. Within the party, a political stalemate has confined policy to the most narrow and conservative part of the spectrum: reform stagnates, recession spreads. The exiled journalist Liu Binyan observes that by using force against the democratic movement, the party fails to solve China's crisis of modernization and weakens its capacity to do so.
It would be good to report that, in this year of China's travail, the United States had managed to advance both its values and its interests of state. This is the challenging but familiar and characteristic requirement of American foreign policy in many times and places. Unfortunately, President Bush has yet to free American policy of a seeming indulgence of the regime's repressions. Washington's friendly gestures have generally been reciprocated by stingy if not downright defiant responses from Beijing. Mr. Bush has expressed his disappointment, but has not accepted the implication of his disappointment, which is that his policy needs another look. His critics are not asking him to break relations or to do anything radical like that. They are asking him only to speak clearly about what is offensive to almost all Americans.