China memoirs will give Party food for thought

BEIJING (Reuters) - The memoirs of China’s late Communist Party chief who was sacked in 1989 for sympathizing with student protesters will give the Party plenty to think about when deciding the country’s political future, his one-time top aide said.

Former reformist Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang poses for photo in the garden of his home in central Beijing April 17, 1990. The memoirs of China's late Communist Party chief who was sacked in 1989 for sympathising with student protesters will give the Party plenty to think about when deciding the country's political future, his one-time top aide said. Picture taken April 17, 1990. REUTERS/New Century Media and Consulting Co., Ltd.

Two decades after his downfall and four years after his death, reformist leader Zhao Ziyang has shattered the official silence cloaking the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in memoirs he recorded in secret under house arrest.

In his revelations, Zhao praised Western-style democracy and said multi-party politics, a free press and an independent judiciary were needed for China to become a parliamentary democracy.

Asked what the impact of the memoirs would be, Bao Tong, formerly Zhao’s most trusted aide, told Reuters: “I think it will cause Party members to reflect deeply.”

“I think it’s slightly more likely that senior leaders would read this book. It will give them a lot to think about, and cause them to think about the Party’s basic survival,” said Bao, the most senior Chinese official jailed over the Tiananmen protests.

Bao said he was “100 percent certain” the voice on an audio recording was Zhao’s after being given earphones to listen to excerpts during an interview at a Beijing hotel restaurant where he had been followed by plainclothes police.

Zhao had been accused of splitting the Party for challenging then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s decision to send in troops to crush the pro-democracy protests centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Zhao died in 2005 after more than 15 years under house arrest.

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Asked if Zhao’s memoirs could split the Party again, Bao was adamant: “No.”

China has changed dramatically since 1989, breaking out of diplomatic isolation, emerging to become the world’s third-biggest economy and hosting the Olympics and making its first space walk last year. Most Chinese are richer and freer.

But Tiananmen is still taboo in China and the authorities are expected to ban Zhao’s memoirs.

“It will not be circulated widely,” Bao said.

Zhao’s family declined requests for interviews.

The memoirs come during a sensitive year, when the Party must navigate through potentially volatile anniversaries, including June 4 and the 60th anniversary of the founding of modern China, while coping with a slowing economy and rising joblessness.

Bao was once a political high-flier, and as secretary to the Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee held a rank equivalent to a cabinet minister. Now he is a thorn in the government’s side who is under surveillance around the clock.

“If the Party wants to survive long-term and in accordance with the law, it will have to respect the law,” Bao said. “If they don’t they will make the same mistakes they did on June 4.”

Additional reporting by Mark Chisholm; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dean Yates