Window on current leaders' response

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 June, 2010, 12:00am

Ex-premier Li Peng praised Wen Jiabao for his refusal to sign off on an important telegram that could have led to an emergency session of the National People's Congress over the legality of imposing martial law in Beijing in 1989, according to an unpublished book based on what are believed to be his diaries.

The former leader also praised other current leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Politburo Standing Committee members Li Changchun and He Guoqiang, for their support of the military crackdown.

Li said Wen, then the chief of the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee, had done the right thing by refusing to send a telegram, ordered by the then party chief Zhao Ziyang, intending to call the then NPC chairman Wan Li , who was visiting Canada and the US, back to Beijing to convene an emergency parliamentary meeting to discuss the student protests.

The book, in the form of a series of selected diary entries the former leader wrote from April 15 to June 24, 1989, details how the inner circle of the Communist Party leadership remained sharply divided on how to handle the protests, and the confrontation between Zhao and him.

While Wan was believed to be a supporter of Zhao, he was also closely linked throughout his career with Deng Xiaoping .

The student protesters, the liberal wing within the party and many senior lawmakers had called on Wan to convene an emergency session of the National People's Congress, China's supreme state body, after the party leadership, influenced by Li, had decided to impose martial law.

The congress has the theoretical power to meet two of the students' key demands - removal of the premier and cancellation of martial law.

'In this case, comrade Wen Jiabao has done the right thing by refusing to send out the telegram approved by Zhao Ziyang,' Li writes on June 20, according to a copy of the manuscript seen by the South China Morning Post. Li was referring to what had happened on May 21, 1989, two days after the decision to impose martial law in Beijing.

Wan did cut short the visit to the US for what had officially been described as health reasons after he received two different telegrams, one signed by Li in the name of the party Central Committee asking him to continue the visit, and another prepared by some NPC deputy chairmen and signed by Zhao in the name of NPC. But an extra NPC session was not called before or after the military crackdown on June 4, nor was the scheduled June 20 one held.

During a visit to Canada, Wan appeared to distance himself from Li's declaration of martial law and his order to troops to move into the national capital to clear the city centre of student demonstrators.

He told a Chinese-Canadian audience in Toronto that 'all these problems should be settled through democracy and the legal system'.

In a separate entry on April 25, Li accepted Wen's suggestion to tone down an internal speech by Deng, which condemned the student demonstration, which was to be distributed to central ministries and agencies and regional governments. Li agreed with Wen's suggestion to cut some sensitive statements by Deng 'to try to unite more comrades' and 'avoid controversy', according to the book.

The memoirs also revealed the current leadership, including Wen, Hu, then the Tibet party chief, and He Guoqiang, then mayor of Jinan , had all expressed their support of the leadership's unyielding approach on deciding the imposition of martial law and the consequent sidelining of Zhao.

Li noted in his diary entry that Hu pledged to do his duty in Tibet and said no big problem would take place in the region under his stewardship. Wen pledged to do his best to accomplish what the leadership assigned to the Central Committee's General Office, which he headed, Li said.

Li Changchun, then governor of Liaoning , said his and provincial party chiefs' hearts were at ease after the leadership demonstrated its determination to impose martial law despite troops being blocked from the capital in the early days.

Li Peng also recalled that He, now chief of the party's disciplinary watchdog, told him that he was encouraged by Li's statement in the dialogue with student leaders in the Great Hall of the People on May 18.

Since 1989, all party leaders have defended the government's action 21 years ago, arguing that the crackdown provided years of stable economic growth. And the memoirs are a reminder that the party sees any threat to its control as a threat to the country's future development.

'If that political disturbance was not handled decisively and correctly, the stability and prosperity of today would be impossible,' Hu said during a meeting in 2001, according to Li's memoirs. Li hoped the book could serve as a lesson and help mainland officials make sure an event like that of June 4 would not recur, or to nip it in the bud, he wrote in an afterword dated January 2004.

On the decision to term the movement political turmoil

The student demonstration was deemed an 'organised and carefully plotted political struggle and was documented as such in the minutes of the [April 24 Politburo] meeting. Li Peng, Li Ximing and Chen Xitong were the ones initially responsible for this.' Zhao Ziyang

[At the meeting], everyone agreed with unprecedented unity that the situation was dire and a plotted political struggle aimed at overthrowing the Communist Party. We must take clear and forceful measures to stop this. Li Peng

On the May 19 meeting to declare martial law

On the afternoon of the 19th, I was suddenly delivered a notice for the meeting that would announce the imposing of martial law and given the text of Li Peng's speech and was asked to chair and speak at the meeting. Yet I was not notified where it would be held and who would attend or what other items were to be on the agenda. Zhao Ziyang

My speech was greeted with thunderous applause. Zhao Ziyang refused to attend such a critical meeting, again showing in front of the whole nation his split with the party centre. He has made the unpardonable mistake of splitting the party. Li Peng

On China's future after the crackdown

Given current conditions in China, we must establish that the final goal of political reform is the realisation of this advanced political system. If we don't move toward this goal, it will be impossible to resolve the abnormal conditions in China's market economy ? nor will the rule of law ever materialise. Zhao Ziyang

What lessons we can learn? First, the Communist Party is the core force of all the developments in China. Our leadership must be a united leadership. A fortress often fell because of [traitors] inside. Second, on this turmoil, the party has passed its verdict and this verdict should never be overturned. Will China experience similar riots? It is possible. Some anti-China western powers do not want to see a strong China. They will do whatever they can to sabotage our great revival. Li Peng