[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Is It Really a New China?
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2003


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] On the night of June 3-4, 1989, the Chinese army used tanks and other heavy equipment to savagely end weeks of protest activities in Tiananmen Square and around the country. The protesting students and their supporters had been seeking human rights and personal liberties; a broadening of the political leadership; and a reduction in the power of the army.

A great deal has changed in the People's Republic of China in the last 14 years. Beijing now is dominated by beautiful new high-rise office and apartment buildings. A scattering of bicycles is visible, but major roads are in perpetual gridlock with late-model cars. Recently constructed luxury shopping malls include prestige imports from Chanel, Gucci and Valentino. Their clientele is local.

In Shanghai, the pace of building in the last decade has been frenetic. The skyline connotes a prosperity that would be the envy of San Francisco. Restaurants and shops are crowded along fashionable Nanjing Road, while substandard housing for thousands is only miles away. Factories pour out commercial output at a tremendous clip while spewing pollutants into the air and endangering the health of employees, all in the name of rapid economic advancement.

Anxious to push the new economy to the west, the government has focused on a number of areas, including the long time former capital, Xian, site of the life-size terracotta warriors, the eighth wonder of the world. As a new Boeing plane of Air China comes in for a landing, it passes over villages with dirt roads, untouched by the builders of the modern highways in the Xian area to facilitate joint ventures with American, German and British firms. The gate agents ride bicycles to meet the plane on the tarmac. But not for long. A state-of-the-art terminal is nearing completion.

From all of this, one message screams out: the Chinese people have the freedom to make and spend money. Capitalism is thriving in the People's Republic. Mao must be turning over and moaning in his mausoleum.

With this newfound economic freedom, it's tempting to conclude that the students won; however, this analysis is flawed. Their basic objectives have not been achieved. Economic loosening has not meant an easing of political restraints.

Western ideas are still shut out as if they were a deadly communicable disease. CNN exists in hotels, but not in homes. The government decides which books can be sold. American films are available only on the DVD black market. Those suspected of supplying material for the Tiananmen Papers have been arrested. Intellectuals who dare to criticize the regime are hauled in for questioning and arrest. Voices are muted in Tiananmen Square for fear that the army, present in significant numbers, may be listening.

Surrounded by a high wall and barbed wire fence, the foreign embassy compound containing at least twenty embassies, in Beijing across the street from the luxurious St. Regis hotel, is patrolled by the army at every entrance. Access is restricted. Obtaining precise information is impossible. For Chinese dissidents, seeking asylum is not an option.

At international airports, meticulous computer checks are made on everyone attempting to leave the country, resulting in long lines snaking around the terminal. The People's Republic is an easy place to enter, a tough place to leave.

Some of the names in high positions have changed, but the same old ruling clique controls key governmental positions as it did before June 1989. The power of the military has not been reduced. Quite the contrary: from month to month the Chinese army, already the largest in the world, expands in size, sophisticated weaponry and influence.

Despite wishful thinking to the contrary in the United States, the political and military leaders in China are obsessed with a single subject: Taiwan. In my recent novel Dark Ambition, the Chinese Ambassador will stop at nothing in order to drive this point home with the American Secretary of State. The Chinese view the island as a renegade province of the People's Republic. In contrast, the United States, Japan and much of the world are content to have Taiwan remain in its current ambiguous situation, neither independent nor a part of the People's Republic. To date, Beijing has accepted this political ambiguity while encouraging economic integration on Beijing's terms, such as Taiwanese companies establishing manufacturing plants on the mainland.

The status quo will not continue indefinitely. Missile batteries facing the heart of Taiwan are in place in Fujian Province and elsewhere. They are constantly being increased and upgraded. The only message which can be taken away from this fact is that there are many in the leadership in Beijing for whom a military alternative is the way to compel Taiwan to become a part of the People's Republic. Steps by Taiwan toward independence will hasten the date of the Chinese attack.

Economically, the twenty-first century may belong to China. However, along with the economic miracle, it must be remembered that the students and their supporters did not achieve their objectives. There have been published reports of renewed protest activities by workers this spring, and tension between the leadership and the people continues to simmer below the surface. The 1989 Tiananmen protest must be viewed as unfinished business.

The Bush Administration understands that the future of Taiwan is also an open issue. Quietly, they have been trying to upgrade the island's defenses and war fighting capabilities. A powerful Taiwanese military will be the only real deterrent stopping a hard-line leader in Beijing from launching those missiles.