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Letters from Downunder

A terrible aspect

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

(9/2014) As I write this the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen square massacre is making headlines.

They remind us of the savage brutality displayed by the Chinese authorities against those citizens who dared take a stand for a little democracy to temper the totalitarian regime in power. This blatant disregard for the life of its citizens sent waves of loathing and anger around the world, as never before had such a thing been done so openly and publicly. Such suppression was not new, of course, as history is littered with other examples, but this was the first time the authorities had been prepared to take no notice of a world watching and condemning.

The authorities appeared not to care what anyone else thought, nor what anyone else could do about it. They were not stupid, not boastful, but felt justified and indifferent to criticism. Certainly the closed society that had been the nature of the country for very many centuries may have formed a backdrop to their beliefs, but China was not as closed to the outside world as it once was. Trade and manufacturing had become dominant, ruthless methods were employed to ensure they succeeded, the supreme head of the nation needed to be seen as a form of demigod, and total obedience equaling worship was expected.

Mao’s long march over the old culture had arrived at its destination; we were all glad to see his coffin, and expected something closer to the values the west had put on life, liberty, and justice to emerge. How wrong we were. Human rights became the new oxymoron, tolerance a sarcastic joke, freedom to support and not criticize a necessity. The west threw its arms up in horror and disbelief, diplomats delivered stern messages, the media railed and pontificated, but in fact there was, and there still is, little give in the hierarchy.

This was a surprise to many, because China’s new president, Xi Jinping, was just 13 when his father was abducted, tortured, forced to confess by the powers of the cultural revolution, then paraded with a wooden sign around his neck. After Mao’s death the elder Xi returned to the ruling hierarchy where he advocated laws that would guard against unbridled power, as well as providing protection for those who spoke unwelcome truths. Other high profile reformers joined the push, and hope took root. Anxiety began to subside, but this attempt to create a more inclusive society came to an appalling end 25 years ago when peacefully demonstrating students were gunned down. The proposed reforms were likewise killed, and Mao’s ways were reinforced.

Most citizens went along with it – some delayed for a while, hoping for a sign of reform - but in the end they too cheered the tanks, condemned the protestors, and showed their loyalty - because to do otherwise is to invite state retaliation. There was still suppression of truth, information, and contrary opinion, but no more blatant murders; they, like Stalin’s regime decades earlier, went underground.

One of the most amazing omissions in history was bearing fruit: The war on communism that never was. America was once the scourge of this ideology, bankrupting Russia, trying to stop dominoes falling in south east Asia, sanctioning North Korea, ignoring Minimar and so on, but never once even declaring that Chinese communism was wrong and had to be eliminated. Instead, trade was ramped up, cheap goods being preferable to costly remonstrance. Soon it was too late. China can no longer be dealt with in a way that would reduce human rights violations, allow the smokescreens to be more transparent, and dialogue on intentions to be productive. It is simply too big. Armed forces could not win, sanctions – the weapon of choice elsewhere – are quite meaningless, as would trying to unite the world in boycott or purpose.

The way forward has now become ‘working together’, a dubious scenario at the best of times, because their idea of ‘together’ is ‘join us or else’. Already official Chinese media is setting the stage, buying up local radio and print news, aiming the official tiger-smile lies at the Chinese who have escaped the straightjackets. Tiananmen is the signpost that must guide us in our dealings with them at all levels, yet we are also aware of the considerable opposition that remains within. The work of many high profile academics is having an effect, not on the leaders, but on the growing middle classes. The ripples of that massacre are still stirring resistance; the leaders are all too aware that this anniversary would bring protests anew, but are now unwilling to expose their butchery to the world, and are bringing troops to bar the way to the square, censorship all media, and keep the news bland.

This is a people that needs and deserves our support, and a nation that needs a warning that the days of Stalin must not be repeated, that territorial disputes must be dealt with openly and fairly, and that expansionist ideas will be opposed at every step. The enormous world population (with its limited resources) has a long way yet to go if it is to survive and even prosper. China, with its gigantic population, must be a part of that, must allow sovereign rights of all other countries to be preserved, and learn to share power and tolerate other cultures.

This is probably the greatest challenge of all time, but it has to be worth every effort. Forget imposing democracy, western ways, the pursuit of happiness; let us try to lift repression, bring some peace, rub shoulders but not rub out.

Not that many people here in Australia seem interested or aware, but our trade with them is our lifeblood, our real estate, primary production and manufacturing is being taken over at record prices; there is no shortage of cash to buy a country – this one, and yours – and the bottom line is as close at the next day. No businessmen – or women – seem to considers the prospect of Chinese ownership as being bad for the country or the citizens, but it is fool’s gold, or the proverbial mess of pottage, because they do not wish to look beyond tomorrow’s dividend.

But some of us will surely fight all the way with you to ensure more than the most basic of human rights are cemented in place, the liberty so dearly fought for in the past is preserved, and the differences we have to bear to be as nothing to the difference a Chinese rule would bring.

Let me finish by quoting the words of Nobel Prize awarded Liu Xiaobo: "No matter what, we must not lose confidence in justice and human nature. We believe this will overwhelm the leviathan. Our aim is not to knock it over but to ensure a peaceful transition after its fall. Even when the ghost of communism evaporates, society still needs to move forward. We can’t afford another revolution."

Lindsay, prepared to fight to the end, down under.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker