Philip Cunningham did not present a particularly clear viewpoint in his article headlined 'Rebels, reformers dispute June 4' (South China Morning Post, May 31).
Nonetheless, he did manage to group Zhao Ziyang, who opposed the crackdown, with Li Peng as though they were equally responsible for the bloody massacre. 'Mr Li and Mr Zhao, cut from the same communist cloth, were not butchers, but their mutual intransigence dashed hopes for an amicable settlement, making them the 'botchers' of Tiananmen,' claimed Mr Cunningham. This is contrary to what is becoming increasingly clear, especially after publication of The Tiananmen Papers.
Mr Zhao disagreed with the crackdown and wanted dialogue with the students. The body of supporting documents is enormous, including Mr Zhao's Asian Development Bank Speech in May 1989 and the recently disclosed statements of Mr Zhao's closest adviser, Bao Tong, regarding the events of June 4, 1989. Mr Cunningham blames the party's Politburo (including Mr Zhao) for 'letting their power struggle consume the young'. Mr Zhao's resignation cannot be explained as another party 'power struggle'. The best way for him to have retained power would have been to agree with Deng Xiaoping's decision on the crackdown, as did Mr Li and others who remain in power. Mr Zhao chose otherwise.
I disagree with Mr Cunningham's claim that 'Mr Zhao's allies at the top of the party . . . gained a measure of control by lending logistical support to the genuinely restive students'. Mr Bao, who served seven years for siding with Mr Zhao, was not even charged by the Government for having any relationship with student protesters.
More disturbingly, Mr Cunningham's thesis that the tragedy of the Tiananmen crackdown was a result of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, such as Mr Zhao, seeking to exploit the movement is not only unsubstantiated but is exactly what the CCP propaganda attempted to establish. Blaming a few 'black hands' has been the CCP's consistent tactic to justify its suppression of the masses, a story that few people bought, though apparently Mr Cunningham did. Mr Zhao's official 2.5-year investigation was one of the most thorough in CCP history, as it searched for evidence to back its accusations of 'supporting turmoil'. If even the CCP could not come up with evidence to connect Mr Zhao with the student movement, where did Mr Cunningham get his idea?
Philip Cunningham replies: I am pleased to see Zhao Ziyang still has fervent supporters, but let's get one thing straight: Mr Zhao is a communist, not me. The former secretary-general was a loyal party servant. Since 1989, he has travelled domestically, played golf on China's best courses and his family has prospered, while his young followers languish in prison.