October 26, 1997 in City

Ugly Memories Of Tiananmen Persist

Sandy Grady Knight-Ridder
 

It is as if June 4, 1989, never happened.

Gone, kaput, vanished, disappeared from memory.

Bill Clinton, not for the first time, seems a victim of selective amnesia.

Let’s see, Tiananmen Square? Hmm. Wasn’t that where Chinese students were marching with replicas of the Statue of Liberty and banners begging for democracy? Oh yeah, didn’t troops shoot, beat or imprison hundreds in a famous massacre? Right, Mr. President. Some of us still wince, recalling the Man in the White Shirt who stood alone against the clanking tanks.

Oh, well, Clinton can conveniently forget Tiananmen, a word that won’t pass his lips next week as he clinks glasses with Chinese President and Communist boss Jiang Zemin.

Much has happened since June 4, 1989 - including big-buck sales in China for such U.S. behemoths as Boeing, IBM, Coca-Cola, Motorola, General Electric and General Motors.

No wonder the Tiananmen bloodbath is dumped in history’s dust bin, ignored like the prisoners still in China’s gulag.

Or the quaint U.S. idea of human rights.

Clinton, swapping chummy toasts with the first Chinese leader at the White House since Tiananmen’s butchery, can even black out memory of candidate Clinton’s 1992 hypocrisy.

To jog your memory, Mr. President, you blasted George Bush for “coddling tyrants in Beijing.” You tore into Bush: “It’s a mistake for us to do what his administration did when those kids went out carrying the Statue of Liberty … (sending) advisers in secret to toast the Chinese people, tell them not to worry about it.”

Now Bill’s outdone Bush. Nothing secret about the red carpet Clinton & Co. will lay on for Jiang’s post-Tiananmen heroics. Washington, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, Boston - a red-white-and-blue tour of shrines that resonate with American history.

You’d think this portly, slick-haired commie politico was reincarnated Tom Jefferson doing a victory lap.

Maybe everyone won’t be as forgetful as Clinton. Standing before a panorama of the Great Wall in the red-tasseled Chinese Embassy, press counselor Yu Shunting warned that Jiang’s visit must not be disturbed by noisy Americans with Tiananmen stuck in their craw.

“We’re guests of the American government, so we hope it will do a good job so so-called dissidents do not disrupt the visit of President Jiang,” said Yu. “The amiable atmosphere should be guaranteed by the host country.”

Sorry, Mr. Yu, you’re not in a country that shoots protesting kids - at least not since the Vietnam era.

Informed of Yu’s request for crackdown, Clinton spokesflak Mike McCurry snapped, “Welcome to democracy. It’s not likely to happen.”

One of your boss’ stops, Mr. Yu, will be in Philadelphia, a boobird nest where citizens have thrown snowballs at Santa Claus.

Jiang swaggering in front of the Liberty Bell is a cosmic joke. And Jiang preening his image before Independence Hall is stomach-turning satire.

Those red brick walls hold honorable ghosts - Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hancock, Rush, Chase. I’d love to hear somebody explain to Jiang Zemin what they were doing on July 4, 1776. And make him ponder their words about self-evident truths:

“… That all man are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Maybe Tong Yi could translate that strange sentence to Jiang. She was thrown out of China, a friend of famed protester Harry Wei, jailed 19 years for stubbornly nailing up democratic posters. Winner of Robert Kennedy and Sakharov freedom prizes, Wei is imprisoned and near death.

“He’s kept like a zoo animal in a box with large windows so guards watch him,” she says, hoping Jiang’s visit might free Wei.

No chance Clinton will bring up such unpleasantness. In his cozy chat with Jiang, the prez isn’t expected to trouble him about human rights, arms sales, Tibet or Taiwan. They’re good ol’ boys doing a deal. Jiang wants to peddle more shoes, computer parts, toys and appliances. And Clinton - well, American corporations are political cash cows.

Anyway, Jiang will be busy, swaddled in honorary degrees, flags and 21-gun salutes.

My hunch is he’ll also be serenaded by rowdy critics who don’t share Clinton’s amnesia. “He’ll get a lesson in political dynamics,” says China expert Kenneth Lieberthal.

I’d listen for ghostly boos when Jiang does his Philly strut. Those wise old guys, Jefferson and Franklin, would have hated the Tiananmen bloodbath. They knew something that eludes Clinton: Don’t truckle with tyrants.

xxxx

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