Tuesday, March 14, 2017
US Media on Tiananmen Square: A Summary and Analysis
US Media on Tiananmen Square: A Summary and Analysis
It all started late April 1989, when 3000 people laid outside the Government headquarters in a hunger strike to back up their demands for “free press, better treatment of intellectuals, and attack on corruption” (Holley). Since then, economists have seen a massive growth in the Chinese economy in a span of a decade. People's income doubled, and there was a significant rise in consumerism. However, along with this development, there was a conspicuous corruption and lack of democracy.
According to Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times’ Beijing bureau chief, the revolution was triggered by discontent. However, more than that, this was rooted in the fact that the "Communist Party has been losing its grip on the country" even long before the Tiananmen event. Statistically, the country was growing annually, modernizing successfully, and people were better off. But people felt that they needed something more. In the end, this was a "crisis of confidence." Overall, the US media had started to recognize that Communism is a failed system.
Kristof saw that the modernization was going too fast and became unsustainable for the government leading lot of economic mismanagement. On top of that, the government became corrupt and people saw it. The Communist Party was slowly losing its power and became less and less intimidating. The people, on the other hand, were losing interest in it and trust in the party.
Prime Minister Li released an aggressive statement ordering the military to disperse the pro-democratic supporters. This caused even more people to go out on the streets support the pro-democratic movement. Li and Deng Xiaoping, defense leader, who were once seen as heroes were then regarded as a public enemy. Li's statement alarmed the protesters and pushed them to put their guards up, and set up precautionary measures in the threat of military invasion.
The protests were very unlikely during that time. Students have been relatively loyal to the party and have been uninterested in political disagreements (Kristof). However, when students started to gather on April 15 to put forward their struggles and interests it became a shock to the US media. At that time, the Sino-Soviet split was happening and the US media had sent a lot of their reporters in the country to cover this event.
On May 20, the government announced a martial law. This meant that media censorship, and restrictions of foreign media would be enforced. Despite a few warnings from Foreign Ministry or State Security Bureau on the consequences of violating this rule, the foreign press still conducted numerous interviews and published regular reports following the events in the Tiananmen Square (Kristof).
On May 21, it seemed like the movement was taking a more optimistic path. American media had an optimistic view on how the protests would possibly end on a victorious note. On the other hand, some Chinese protesters had already foreseen that there would be bloodshed. At this time, there weren't a lot of violence happening. Protesters were still able to keep the police force and the military out of Beijing. One element that caused this to start in a peaceful manner is the presence of US media in the center of the country.
The protesters, despite efforts of the military to tear them down, took a peaceful approach by bringing the troops food, drinks, cigarettes, and newspapers. The basic strategy of protesters was to keep an open communication at all times to ensure a great understanding between the pro-democratic movement, and the army and ordinary citizens (Wudunnon). Some of the soldiers were prohibited from reading newspapers and were sent to the Tiananmen Square without the prior knowledge of why the people were there in the first place. This diplomatic discussion softened the military forces and caused some of them to retreat.
This optimism is intensified with the Chinese coverage of Philippine's People Power which triumphantly ousted their dictator of 20 years, Ferdinand Marcos. Similar tactics from that revolution were done by Chinese people in hopes that they would achieve similar victory.
On the other hand, thousands of Chinese have also conducted protests in US as a gesture of support for the student protesters in Tiananmen Square. Three thousand people have taken their demonstrations outside the Chinese embassy in Washington. Some of the students voiced out their plea that the US government support the cause of the pro-democracy protesters.
US Response on the Spark of the Protest
At that time, there was a good military relationship between China and US. According to then President Bush, military interventions were not deemed an option as it might affect this relationship negatively (Kristof). He had expressed his views on foreign policy in an address in 1989. In his speech, he recognized the failure of the Communist system, and the people’s eagerness to attain a more democratic system. He also acknowledged the protests in Tiananmen Square and he reassured the protesters that the world hears the plea of people for democracy and freedom.
At the same time, then President Bush emphasized that the strategy of the US government is deterrence, and that he discouraged any use of weaponry against the country’s allies. This was a statement on the elimination of war as an option in Europe, and promotion of peaceful East-West relationship. On the other hand, this can be seen as an indirect statement on the planned intervention (or lack thereof) of US government on the ongoing Tiananmen protests. He highlighted that aggression against US allies are deemed as unacceptable.
On June 3, the Chinese government had increased their press restriction and press coverage of the Tiananmen protest. Interviewing of the protesters and taking photographs of the scene were prohibited in Tiananmen. During the early morning of June 3, soldiers started advancing to the square but were constantly blocked off by protesters as they remain outnumbered. Correspondents from US media had been visible despite the increasing risk on the safety of the people present in the square. There have been reports of military brutality against foreign journalists, however, the US media kept a good coverage on the events.
By the night of June 3, Deng imposed to the military the use of force and violence to anyone who would defy them. This is an order to carry out the martial law as planned, and go on extreme measures to disperse the protesters. An announcement by martial law authorities urged people to stay at home to avoid any unnecessary losses. The aggressive move of the military to penetrate the Tiananmen and the pro-democratic protester’s hard resistance caused massive casualties.
It appears that despite the aggressive protests, Communist hard-liners still have total control, and Communist members who were in favor of conciliation have very weak influence (Kristof). However, as the chaos ensued there was still no spokesman for the party (Mann and Holley). The party remained weak and without political leadership.
Then Prime Minister Li had his first public appearance on a televised message congratulating the success of the troops and the people who fought against the pro-democratic movement. New Martial law rule prohibits any kind of writing and posts that are critical of the government. Days after the crackdown, government forces were still on high alert, guns were still fired occasionally, and troops were still deployed all over Beijing, although no further protest ensued.
Thousands of protesters died on the day of June 4. On top of that, a handful of those who took part in the pro-democratic movement were detained or imprisoned. Government forces even raided universities and arrested at least a dozen of students who are linked to the movement. Many more leaders were detained, while some went into hiding. The pro-democratic movement was continued to be vilified by the Chinese media after the event, with media labeling them as “counter-revolutionaries, anti-social elements, rumormongers, arsonists and anti-government sloganeers” (Holley and Williams). Televised coverage of the Tiananmen event in Chinese media showed only activists resisting, burning military vehicles, and attacking troops. Soldiers, on the other hand, were shown to die and get injured, not throwing a single attack. They campaigned on a widespread dissinfornation to regain public loyalty they had once lost.
Their security heightened as they limit distribution of passport. People were required to bring their identification at all times. One criteria of acquiring a passport includes proving your political loyalty, and proving your role in the pro-democratic protest (Pear).
US Government on the Communist Government
Former President Bush had made a statement after the incident criticizing the Chinese government’s resort to violence. He also expressed that while the US government may take reasonable measures as a response to Chinese government’s suppression of freedom, they should also make sure that the former’s short and long term goals are taken into account. His first step in condemning China’s action was to suspend all “government-to-government sales and commercial exports of weapon.” Bush also promised medical aid to those affected by the crackdown through the help of Red Cross, On the other hand, Bush stated that he doesn’t want any act of violence on his part that might risk China to go back to its “previous policy of restraint.” It was not until 1972 when China started to open its doors to international relationships and developed diplomatic ties with the United States. The goal, according to Bush, is to develop a careful response that would protect the democracy while maintaining and strengthening the US’s relationship with China. Furthermore, he also expressed that it is not the best time to sever ties or withdraw their relationship with a country that might further break down. Despite constant suggestions that he pulls out US ambassador from China, he refuses to do so as he believes that the ambassador serves as a “listening post” and that he still wants to get as involved as he can. Bush’s main concern is to not make any move that would isolate China.
However, then Secretary of State James Baker had refused to comment on what penalties the US government would impose on China. While Bush had mentioned military suspension between China and US, he is still skeptical on imposing economic sanctions given that he does not want to damage the US-China relationship. They have kept their silence regarding what measures the government would take on the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown despite the increasing criticisms and pressure coming from the congress and the human rights group (Jehl). Instead, Secretary Baker had stated that the government is still looking into what might happen before taking any concrete action against the Communist government. There had been proposals of sanctions which tackle the problem very loosely and broadly. However, these discussions were always pushed back as Baker explained that they need to interpret their actions before implementation (Mann). In the end, the US government had chosen not to interfere with China’s political affairs.
This silence displeased the congress, as well as both the Democrats and Republicans, as they insist that US government should not appear complacent on Deng Xiaoping’s violent response to the protests. According to then Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Alan Cranston, this attitude of US government to the Chinese authorities is a compromise for Communism and a loss for democracy. On the other hand, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina had expressed his disappointment in what had ensued, urging the government to take steps to castigate the Chinese government. He said that one of the first steps he would want to make after the Tiananmen event was to cut the “US military cooperation and sharing of technology with the Communist Government.” Similarly, then Senator Paul Simon, Illinois Democrat, had suggested suspension of military aid, and New York Representative Bill Paxton had told then President to impose economic sanctions.
Brent Scowcroft, US National Security Advisor, went to China a month after the Tiananmen massacre. Then Senator George J. Mitchell, Democrat of Maine, majority leader, expressed his disappointment that this had happened a month after the brutal killings of pro-democratic protesters. The public had also openly condemned this move by the US government. This is especially because these actions were not consistent with President Bush’s statement on the Chinese-US interaction. At that time, President Bush had suspended high-level exchanges between the US and Chinese government (Dowd). However Bush defended this move by his subordinates as this is aimed to “make diplomatic overtures after the killings.”
Analysts have agreed that the president sees that any aggressive action from US can damage the relationship of Washington and Beijing (Mann). Despite the constant pressure from the media, public, the congress, and other government leaders, Former President Bush chose that their relationship with China be preserved. Analysts have also agreed that the government officials were hopeful that this uproar from American public would settle down after a period of time and there would eventually be a change in Chinese leadership (Mann). This expectation from the US government is one of the reasons as to why the action has been very mild.
US Companies operating in China were taken aback as the events caused instability in the economy. There had been different proposals on how businesses should respond to the Tiananmen events. Charles Conroy, a partner at Baker & McKenzie law firm, considered suspending operations if the situation worsens. On the other hand, Albert Y. P’an of Transcapital International Inc. suggested not to halt any ongoing operations, but agreed that there should not be any new operations in the future until the situation in China becomes more certain.
Aside from the worry about the operations and its profitability, US business owners were also worried about the condition and the safety of their workers in China (Kreisler). According to Michael Oskenberg, political science professor in University of Michigan, the US business operations would only return to normal once the military presence subsides, and there is a maintained regular contact between US and China for joint ventures.
The State Department had restricted the presence of employees of American Embassy in Tiananmen Square. The State also discouraged Americans to travel to China after the incident (Pear). There were also reports of foreigner “mass evacuation,” which was seen as a sign of the damage on the diplomatic and economic ties caused by the massacre that went down in Tiananmen Square (Williams and Holley).
This backlash raised the need for a new leadership, to which a few Hong Kong-based diplomats agreed on. Chinese and Chinese Americans had organized peaceful public protests across US, like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans, and other cities to denounce the Chinese government (McFadden). Ultimately, this was a call for the US government to penalize the Chinese government. On the other hand, Chinese students who were in the US plead for an extended stay in America as things remained unstable in China. The bill that allows Chinese students to stay in the country even after their visas expired was, however, vetoed by Bush.
US Media on Tiananmen Events
US media had widely televised the events during and after the massacre happened. News outlets reported the events with emphasis on key elements such as the large military presence, extreme brutality, and the casualties. Recordings of interviews and the cruelty in the Tiananmen Square were watched all over America. The young students who were involved in the tragic crackdown were hailed as heroes in US media (Goodman).
On the other hand, the media did not tolerate the actions of the Communist government, and deplored the use of heavy force on unarmed students and protesters. Jim Laurie of ABC described the Tiananmen event as “obscene and unforgivable,” while CBS recorded an announcer on Radio Beijing speaking to the foreign government to perform apt action against the “barbarous” event. Goodman described the television scene to have a presumption of judgement beyond the television standards.
A mandatory report that was published on February 21, 1990 described the events as brutal and the “massacre” violated almost every human rights. The White House initially discouraged officials to criticize China on their human rights violation. However, despite being reviewed by the White House and the staff of the National Security Council, they have decided to publish the report without censoring as constricting it might cause more uproar from the public. The report includes China’s deteriorating human rights, and the government’s defense with “massive disinformation campaign, expulsion and harassment of foreign journalists.” The report aimed to express an objective report on the criticisms of events which has been much more blatant than Bush’s previous statements (Pear).
NBC summarized the report as follows. People who were involved in the protests were detained and subjected to torture in an attempt to get as much information as possible. On the other hand, as security measures after the crackdown, Chinese government increased their surveillance of their citizens by installing cameras, and monitoring the people’s mails, phone calls, and any form of communications. The report also stated that ''China reject[ed] the concept of universal human rights” as they refuse to discuss their violations. In line with the report also mmentions the government’s demolition of a human rights group named Amnesty 89 making it clear that any group advocating human rights will not be tolerated. Continuous human rights violation were reported such as Ganzu province’s sterilization of people with low IQ to ensure that no children with “severe mental handicap” were born. The report also publicized the harsh condition inside prisons where most of the time, a person is often help under their custody without charges, and automatically found guilty.
There had been a great divide as to how the US should approach the problem. The major dilemma was whether Former President Bush should have given sanctions to the Chinese government, or he should remain passive in his response to the Tiananmen Square. Choosing intervention on political affairs of China and penalizing them for the casualty would lead to a weakened diplomatic relationship between US and China. He had been very vocal about how he fears that China may isolate itself again. On the other hand, imposing a lenient response is a blow on US’s stand and principles on democracy, and tolerance on human rights violations. Although the US government has expressed their grief on what had happened in the Tiananmen, they chose to maintain a positive relationship with China refraining from doing any aggressive measure. While he had promise humanitarian aid and medical assistance, he did not do any further penalties on the Chinese Government aside from suspending any import and export of weaponry between US and China. Overall, Bush’s approach is not to isolate the Beijing, but instead to maintain diplomatic talks as he sees cutting any more ties would lead to further collapse of the Chinese government.
On the other hand, other government officials, and the US media had been tougher on their opinions as they blatantly condemned the massacre. The public had also marched out to protest and plead for aid to the Chinese people, and aggressive response from US.
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