YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


A Look at China Through Dissidents' Eyes Might Change Feinstein's View

June 24, 1996|JIM MANN

WASHINGTON — Over the past few months, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been preaching to anyone and everyone the message that the Chinese government is getting a bum rap. She claims that the situation in China is becoming more open and less repressive.

But if Feinstein, on her next trip to China, would try to meet with Bao Tong, she might gain a perspective different from the one Chinese leaders give her.

Or perhaps when he visits China next month, President Clinton's national security advisor, Anthony Lake--who came into the White House calling for the "enlargement" of democracy around the world--can look into Bao Tong's case.

Who is Bao Tong?

He has been, for the past seven years, by far China's top-ranking political prisoner. But Bao is not your typical dissident. He is not a kid, not a street orator. Rather, the 62-year-old was once one of China's top young leaders. He had been the top aide to Communist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, the political secretary to the Politburo Standing Committee and a member of the Communist Party Central Committee.

An excellent book by UCLA professor Richard Baum, "Burying Mao," depicts Bao as one of the leading reformers within the Communist Party in the decade after Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1979. But in 1989, at the time of the Tiananmen Square upheavals, Bao was locked up on charges of "counterrevolutionary propaganda" and leaking state secrets after he opposed the decision to impose martial law in Beijing.

Imprisoning Bao was roughly the equivalent of sending Lake or White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, or some longtime advisor to Republican presidents, such as former Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, to jail in this country.


You can learn a lot about a government not just by seeing who is jailed, but also by looking at the manner in which they are set free.

In this country, those who were convicted of Watergate crimes--like President Nixon's aides John D. Ehrlichman and John W. Dean III--served brief jail terms and then, after their releases, were able to write books, appear on television and otherwise get on with their lives.

Not so Bao. Just four weeks ago, he was released from China's Qincheng Prison after serving seven years. But it was not a release in the usual meaning of the word.

Chinese authorities did not permit Bao to go home. Instead, they set up a special guarded compound for him in the Western Hills on the outskirts of Beijing. His entire family has been told that it should move out of its home in downtown Beijing and into the guarded compound with him.

According to a letter Bao sent out two weeks ago, he has been informed he cannot leave the Western Hills area and must obtain permission to meet any visitors. He must submit to monitoring by security officials and must report his "thought" on a monthly basis. He cannot hold any government job, cannot own or run a business, has no rights to freedom of expression and cannot publish anything abroad that would damage China's image. He has no lawyer, no doctor and no telephone.

In other words, after serving his full sentence, Bao has been released from jail into a kind of house arrest.

Looking at the case of Bao gives one a less benign view of China than the one being put forward in this country by friends of the Chinese leadership such as Feinstein. This spring, Feinstein emerged as the leading defender and explainer of the Chinese regime on Capitol Hill, around Washington and in California.

The California Democrat relies heavily on her relationship with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, whom she first met in 1985 when she was mayor of San Francisco and he was mayor of Shanghai. He became China's leader after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Over the past decade, Feinstein has visited Jiang in China on several occasions and has met with other Chinese leaders. She has been accompanied on many of these visits by her husband, San Francisco businessman Richard C. Blum, who has extensive business and real estate interests in China. According to Business Week magazine, he and a partner have raised $105 million for a fund to invest in China. Feinstein said recently that her husband's business interests in China have no connection to her work as a senator.

In Washington, Feinstein's principal cause is to preserve China's most-favored-nation trade benefits. She maintains that revoking the benefits would be counterproductive and would harm American business. In these beliefs, Feinstein is no doubt sincere and hardly unique.

What is troubling is that Feinstein goes several steps further. In her zeal to preserve the favored trade status, she makes assertions about China that are, at best, questionable.


Los Angeles Times Articles