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Thursday, June 4, 1998 Published at 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK

World: Analysis

Tiananmen still haunts Chinese

Police were on high alert at Tiananmen Square

By the BBC's Chinese affairs analyst James Miles

As usual, the Chinese authorities have shown signs of nervousness about the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. Security has been tightened at the square itself, and dissidents have reported increased surveillance of their activities by the police. The government clearly believes that if it fails to take such precautions, protests marking the bloodshed nine years ago might erupt.

Although the army's massacre of unarmed protesters in 1989 arouses far less emotion in China today than it did a few years ago, Tiananmen remains a potentially divisive political issue.

Chinese stand firm

Although the man who ordered the military action, Deng Xiaoping, died early last year, his successors have made it clear they have no intention of reassessing his decision. One reason for this is undoubtedly their fear of reopening wounds that once nearly proved fatal to the Communist Party's unity.

Despite the stable and reformist image presented by China's younger generation of leaders at the party's 15th congress last September, there remains one telling reminder that Tiananmen still haunts them. Zhao Ziyang, who was dismissed as party leader in 1989 for allegedly supporting the student protesters, remains under house arrest in Beijing.

The current leadership is apparently concerned that he might become a rallying figure for dissident forces.

Former Communist official speaks out

A former top aide to Mr Zhao, however, has chosen this year's anniversary to speak out for the first time since the crackdown. In an interview published in Hong Kong, Bao Tong warned that in order to avoid another Tiananmen, China must have democracy.

Mr Bao - who was the most senior official to serve a jail sentence in connection with Tiananmen - said he would believe the leadership was committed to political reform if it released Mr Zhao.

In recent months, Chinas leaders have indeed begun to revive the idea of political reform, a subject that had been virtually taboo since Tiananmen.

But they have not spelled out what exactly they mean by this slogan. There is certainly no hint that they are preparing to free Mr Zhao.

Reforms - how far do they go?

In Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule last year, some political activists are encouraged by their continuing freedom to commemorate Tiananmen. A year ago, some Hong Kong residents had expected the post-colonial government to impose curbs on such activities.

But while this is a sign that Beijing is trying hard to implement its one country, two system's policy, it does not indicate a more relaxed attitude towards the Tiananmen issue.

Particularly at a time of rapidly growing unemployment in China and fears that this could trigger social unrest, Beijing would be very reluctant to give any signal that it is prepared to tolerate another bout of 1989-style protests.

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