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Yugoslavia Has Lessons for China

October 11, 2000|JIM MANN | Jim Mann's column appears in this space every Wednesday

FROM: Jiang Zemin and Li Peng, Politburo Standing Committee

TO: Chinese Communist Party Central Committee

RE: The Lessons from Yugoslavia

Dear Comrades:

We know that over the past week, you have been watching with dismay the downfall of our former friend Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia.

We realize these recent events in Belgrade bring back unsettling memories of 1989--that unpleasant year when we had to suppress a counterrevolutionary rebellion in Tiananmen Square and when the fraternal Communist parties in Eastern Europe collapsed.

We admit we guessed wrong in Yugoslavia. Our foreign policy and intelligence organs thought that Milosevic would survive, and we supported him until the very end.

But no matter. That's all over now. We want to draw the proper lessons from Milosevic's downfall to make sure the same sort of thing doesn't happen in China. Here are the conclusions we have reached:

* Don't ever let crowds gather, especially in the capital city.

As Communists, we talk about "the masses." But it's important to make sure the masses remain an abstraction, not a reality--because we're in power, and the masses can turn quickly against us.

We warned shortly after the Tiananmen Square turmoil that if the Chinese people ever begin to demonstrate like that again, we have to "nip the problem in the bud." Milosevic fell because he waited too long and let too many people get onto the streets in Belgrade.

Those silly foreigners! They think we cracked down on Falun Gong because it's a religious cult. It's not just religion we oppose but any organization we don't control.

The real problem with Falun Gong was that it brought thousands of people onto the streets of Beijing without our approval. We won't let anyone do that, not even disabled veterans or the Deng Xiaoping Memorial Contract Bridge League.

* Never give in to nationwide elections.

Milosevic made the same mistake as other authoritarian leaders before him, such as Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines or Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua: He let himself be suckered into holding an election.

We in Beijing often talk about other governments "hurting the feelings of the Chinese people." But we don't ever want to give the rest of the world any evidence of how the Chinese people feel about their own government.

So we're not going to hold elections beyond the village level. The villages are small enough that the candidates don't need to form political parties and we can stop them if they try.

So far, fewer than 20% of China's villages hold competitive elections. Yet these elections are a great PR device. Americans such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton praise them in the delusion that we are opening up China's political system.

Don't worry, China's so-called experiment with democracy will stop at the village level for a millennium or two.

* We can't trust the Russians in a crisis.

Look what just happened: In Milosevic's last days, the Russians dithered, then acquiesced in the European and American efforts to pressure him to give up power.

Sure, we in China can count on the Russians for ever-greater supplies of advanced weaponry. Sure, the Russians will sign our statements denouncing American hegemony. But they won't stand together with us against the West.

We had trouble reading Putin on his visit to Beijing last summer. The new Russian leader is much more reserved than Boris Yeltsin, who would get boisterous with us at our banquets. Now, we can see that Putin is one of those St. Petersburg types who wants Russia to be oriented toward Western Europe.

In the post-Cold War world, if the Europeans and Americans really stand together, Russia won't challenge them.

* Our most important strategic objective is to keep the Americans and Europeans divided in dealing with China.

Milosevic's ultimate mistake was roughly the same one Saddam Hussein made a decade ago: He let the United States and Europe team up against him.

Look at the result. In Milosevic's last days, the Americans, British and Europeans were all going on television with the same message: If Milosevic goes, we'll lift the economic sanctions against Yugoslavia. What more encouragement did the people of Yugoslavia need?

That's why, even after we join the World Trade Organization, we'll keep using the lure of the China market to promote tensions between America and Europe.

We'll keep on playing off Boeing against Airbus, Motorola and AT&T against Alcatel and Nokia, General Electric against Siemens, General Motors against Volkswagen--always letting these companies think that they stand a better chance of getting contracts if their governments don't make trouble for us.

Comrades, Milosevic's downfall reminds us that a Communist Party Congress, the first in five years, will be held in Beijing in 2002. Thousands of grass-roots party members will be coming to the city.

We're instructing our security chief, Luo Gan, to make preparations. Sure, we think these people are all loyal, but you can never be too careful. We don't want any of them going out into the Beijing streets without our permission.

Milosevic fell, but we will survive.

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