The demonstrations, which on Wednesday drew hundreds of thousands of students and workers to Tian An Men Square in central Beijing to demand greater democracy, are evidence of a major transition occurring in Chinese politics, Gorbachev said.
A 'Turnaround' for Socialism
"Some people regard this as 'the crisis of socialism.' I believe actually that it reflects a very serious turnaround in world socialism. This process is under way in varying degrees in the Soviet Union, China and other socialist countries, and its main thrust is revealing the potential of socialism through democratization. . . ."
The protests, which began a month ago, grew dramatically in size with Gorbachev's visit to Beijing this week--almost as if his presence in the Chinese capital as one of the leading reformers of socialism had inspired the 2,000 students who began a hunger strike last Saturday demanding a full dialogue with the government on political reform.
But the demonstrations, continuing day and night and paralyzing much of central Beijing, have largely eclipsed Gorbachev's visit to China, although the trip normalized Sino-Soviet relations after 30 years of hostility.
So great were the crowds Wednesday that the Soviet leader was unable to tour the Forbidden City or to hold a planned press conference or attend a special performance of the Beijing opera that had been scheduled in the Great Hall of the People. And when he traveled out to the Great Wall, his car was mobbed by well-wishers whenever it slowed in traffic.
'Dynamic Rhythm' in China
"We have seen the dynamic rhythm of China's public life," Gorbachev remarked wryly, shrugging off the schedule changes, which were more an embarrassment to his hosts than himself, as "a political need."
Today, Gorbachev is to visit the industrial center of Shanghai, China's largest city, and then return to Moscow.
Trying to avoid direct comment on the protests, he expressed sympathy with the mounting demand for an open dialogue on political reform and also with the need for "responsible and disciplined" change.
"A political dialogue is under way, a difficult dialogue between the leaders and the people," he told reporters after his press conference had been transferred to the heavily guarded state guest house where he stayed in Beijing.
"We should wish them success in finding solutions to their problems, solutions that will make it possible for the Chinese people to proceed along the path of reforms."
Letter From Students
In an interview on Chinese television, Gorbachev acknowledged a letter from 6,000 student protesters, describing it as "a very warm letter, full of feelings of support for perestroika "--his program of restructuring Soviet society. The comment was widely regarded as certain to boost the demonstrators and their cause.
In a spirited defense of perestroika and glasnost , or political openness, Gorbachev provided further arguments for the students.
"In a one-party system, we need democracy and glasnost to identify, to take into account and to harmonize various interests," he said. "There are limits, and whatever is inconsistent or damaging to our overall choice for socialism is resisted.
"But since we believe the potential of socialism is limitless, glasnost and democracy should also be limitless, but they must go together with responsibility, discipline and education."