Remember Tiananmen Square!!
Jude Wanniski
April 15, 2005


Memo To: Chairman Richard Lugar, Senate Foreign Relations
Cc: Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Chinese Arms Embargo

The latest source of tension we are having with our European allies, I see, is over their wish to lift the embargo on the sales of arms to China while we are insisting the embargo remain in place. Of course, Beijing reads this as another hostile action on our part, which it is, in as much as the Europeans see no reason at all to deny China military goods that it can get from other sources, or more likely develop on their own by shifting more budget resources to making for themselves what would be cheaper to buy on the world market. In case you had not noticed, China can just about copycat anything they might buy and soon have the capacity to sell it on the market cheaper than they might buy it now.

Another point I wish to make, Senator, is to remind you that the embargo was laid on China at U.S. insistence as a result of the events of June 4, 1989, on Tiananmen Square. It was on that day that the late Deng Xiao Peng ordered the Chinese army to clear the square of the tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators who had camped out on the Square since March. The early press accounts of what happened indicated the army fired on the demonstrators and killed many thousands of them. It was of course no surprise that our government could persuade our European allies that an arms embargo was in order as the least punishment we could deliver to the Red Chinese.

In the years since, though, we have learned that what happened on June 4, 1989, was wildly different than the press accounts. For one thing, not a single demonstrator was killed on Tiananmen Square that day. Deng Xiao Peng wanted the square cleared after putting up with the squalor the demonstrators created on the Square, but explicitly ordered that none of the students be killed. Those who died, not thousands, but dozens, were caught in a cross-fire a mile away from the Square between Chinese workers protesting low wages and Chinese militia and police trying to keep order. A total of 300 or 400 civilians were killed in those exchanges, and at least as many militiamen and police died as well.

This did not prevent the U.S. news media from continuing to refer to the “slaughter” on Tiananmen, accounts that grew more lurid with time. One the May 31, 1998 edition of Meet the Press, Tim Russert recalled that 10,000 students had been machine-gunned to death nine years earlier. This was too much for Jay Matthews, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, who had been in Beijing that day and knew this was a lot of baloney. Referring to the Russert quote in an article he wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review, Matthews made enough of an impression that we hear very little from the establishment press anymore about a “slaughter” on Tiananmen. Both the NYTimes and the Washington Post have at least put on the record, in short paragraphs at the end of long paragraphs, that nobody was killed on the Square. The Wall Street Journal, which prefers the mythical story to the true one, has made no such admission.

Even for those who know the true story, about how the students pushed off the Square walked west on a boulevard and a mile away ran into the militia who were trying to deal with the workers demonstrating against their wages, which had fallen in purchasing power as a result of Beijing following the advice of the International Monetary Fund a few years earlier, and devaluing the currency. It became a Police Sandwich, one might say, with the cops caught in between two angry groups. The crowds tore a number of the cops limb from limb and when the shooting began blood was spilled all around.

Further revelations on what happened appeared in recent years with official Chinese reports on the Tiananmen events being “leaked” out of Beijing. In this space I wrote a memo to Jiang Zemin on the Tiananmen Papers . The official record is of blood spilled that day, but the circumstances are so mitigating to the government that in retrospect – although politically incorrect – we might thank Deng Xiao Peng for having acted as he did. Indeed, Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew subsequently praised Deng for having kept a lid on a political powder keg that could have kept China immersed in domestic uprisings for a long time, with unpredictable fallout to the rest of the world.

Why are the neo-cons doing this? And by that, I mean all the power players in the administration and the Congress who follow the lead of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, whose power base is Vice President Cheney (who does anything they suggest he do). It is simply because they only have something TO DO when they have a foreign enemy. They have been openly arguing for a decade that we know someday China will be a powerful military enemy, so why do we wait for them to get that powerful. Let’s do anything we can to weaken them now. And let’s provoke the leaders in Beijing so they take actions that we can say prove the case that they are becoming more adversarial. Hence, the debate over the Tiananmen arms embargo.

You have known me for more than a quarter century, Senator, and surely know that I am not a genetic peacenik or a kook. I am, though, alarmed that the neo-cons have far more power than they should have, especially in their ability to manipulate President Bush. As the most powerful political leader on foreign policy in the Legislative Branch, you have the responsibility to lean against the excesses of the Executive Branch. Please take a look at the administration’s positions vis a vis China and exercise that responsibility.