The failed Moscow coup attempt offers no grounds for expecting political liberalization in China any time soon and could have the opposite effect of provoking increased repression.
Beijing, which had been quick to recognize the coup plotters as the new Soviet leadership, now hopes that Mikhail Gorbachev can re-establish stability throughout the Soviet Union under his authority.
"We respect the choice the Soviet people made, and we believe that with the resumption by President Gorbachev of his duties, the good-neighborly and friendly relations between China and the Soviet Union will continue to develop," Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen told Soviet Ambassador N. N. Soloviev on Thursday, the official New China News Agency reported.
Chinese leaders can still feel reasonably comfortable with Gorbachev, who has done much to improve Sino-Soviet relations during his years in power and at least claims to support socialism.
But Beijing can only feel deep unease about the growing strength of Boris Yeltsin, especially if he supplants Gorbachev as the Soviet Union's most powerful politician. The growth of democracy in the Soviet Union poses a profound challenge to the ideological underpinnings of the Beijing government.
The attempted and then failed coup "is one of the worst possible scenarios" for China's leaders, a Western diplomat in Beijing commented Thursday. "Yeltsin is their nightmare."
This diplomat, who spoke on condition he not be further identified, said he believes "the more immediate effect will be tighter repression" in China.
Chinese nervousness about domestic effects of the coup attempt and its aftermath was reflected Thursday evening when state-run television news carried only the simplest of reports on Gorbachev's resumption of authority. No mention was made of how or why he recovered power, and the entire news item was only about one minute long.