BEIJING -- Conflicting official news reports Wednesday and early today--some painting a rosy picture of the situation in Beijing, others stressing enforcement of martial law--marked an epic battle for control of China raging through the top leadership, the media and the army.
The country’s three most influential news organizations--the People’s Daily, the New China News Agency and the national television network--carried reports Wednesday describing Beijing as socially stable, with an upsurge of politeness between ordinary citizens.
Such a portrayal of life in the capital--largely accurate, although somewhat overdramatized--directly undercuts the rationale behind a five-day-old martial-law order issued by hard-line Premier Li Peng. Li’s order, which has so far proven unenforceable, declared that troops must enter the city to put an end to turmoil.
By describing life in the capital as stable, the media reports provided support for reformist Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, 69, in a political struggle against Li, 60, and elderly leaders, including 84-year-old Deng Xiaoping, who want to use the army to crush a five-week-old student-led pro-democracy protest movement.
Other reports, however, have reflected significant political and military backing for the attempted martial-law crackdown.
In its morning newscast today, the local Beijing radio station reported a call by military authorities for troops to obey the orders of the party and to study recent statements by Li.
“A small group of people are creating chaos with the aim of rejecting the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and rejecting the socialist system,” the military statement declared. “In the face of this serious struggle, we must keep cool heads and a revolutionary attitude. No matter what serious situations arise, no matter what complex struggles we face, we must fulfill to the full the orders of the Central Military Commission.”
Deng, as chairman of that commission, is commander in chief of the armed forces and is believed to have personally approved the decision to impose martial law. Until the current crisis broke, it had been widely expected that Zhao, No. 2 in the commission hierarchy, stood a good chance of succeeding Deng as chairman sometime this year.
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong English-language daily, reported Wednesday that Deng had branded Zhao “a traitor to the party . . . and a counterrevolutionary” during a two-day enlarged Politburo meeting in Beijing that ended Tuesday.
The Politburo was also said to have decided to purge officers and troops loyal to Zhao.
According to the Morning Post, Politburo members, including Li, accused Zhao of four “crimes.” One is that he gave support to the “counterrevolutionary” student movement; another, that he disclosed state secrets to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev by describing the internal Chinese Communist Party decision to let Deng continue as the final arbiter of all party decisions.
Third, the Morning Post said, the hard-liners accused Zhao of supporting radical reforms that they consider counterrevolutionary. And finally, the newspaper said, Zhao is accused of being an “official profiteer.” The paper said that both Zhao and his two sons are alleged to have committed serious economic crimes.
In today’s editions, the Hong Kong newspaper said that unnamed military leaders promised Deng their support in exchange for a larger political role for the People’s Liberation Army and a bigger share of the budget. The Morning Post also reported that Deng has formed a high-level “National Leading Group to Prevent Turmoil” within the Central Military Commission to take charge of the political crisis.
Deng and his supporters are attempting to strip Zhao of all his posts within the party, the newspaper reported.
In another media-related decision favoring the hard-liners fronted by Li, satellite transmissions by foreign television networks--which had been banned, then allowed again--were again banned Wednesday.
The army has been blocked for five days at the outskirts of Beijing by residents who swarmed into the streets to erect barricades of buses, trucks and concrete pipes.
Surprised by the fierce resistance of the capital’s citizens--and unwilling to use force against them--almost all of the troops have now retreated a few miles to settle into nearby army bases. About 1,500 soldiers who arrived by rail Sunday at the central train station--the only soldiers to have penetrated the citizens’ defense perimeter--endured a fourth day of waiting in their coaches Wednesday.
Some of the soldiers said two more battalions had arrived by train at Tongxian, nine miles east of the capital, United Press International reported.
All of the troops--now estimated to number anywhere from 20,000 to 70,000 in the outskirts of Beijing--appeared to be waiting for the political struggle in the top leadership to produce a winner capable of issuing clear orders.
Wednesday’s edition of the Liberation Army Daily carried a letter addressed to soldiers responsible for enforcing martial law that had been written Monday by China’s army command.
“In this serious political struggle that affects the future fate of the nation . . . the troops will face every kind of difficulty and test in their task of ending the disturbance and restoring normal order,” the army letter said. “An extreme minority of people are fanning the flames, creating turmoil, with the goal of negating the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system.”
The People’s Daily--a bastion of sentiment favoring Zhao--projected a radically different view in its Wednesday article on the situation in the Chinese capital.
“Public morale has been revitalized,” said one man quoted by the official party newspaper.
“I have never seen so many people being kind and considerate to each other,” said another.
The official New China News Agency, immediately after carrying these two quotes in a lengthy summary of the People’s Daily article, went on to state: “The leading newspaper in China reported that their feelings are shared by many people who have come to the capital from other parts of the country, who find that they are no longer annoyed by the almost legendary slack service, rudeness or rigid attitudes of Beijing shop assistants.
“The newspaper cites some small but revealing human interest stories to illustrate the newly appeared high morale of Beijingers, despite their concern for the future,” the news agency report said.
The People’s Daily report describes how, as martial-law troops tried to enter the city early Saturday morning, students and residents blocked their path.
“More than 20 military trucks were blocked by city residents at an intersection,” the newspaper said. “Some young workers walked up in front of the military trucks and handed out cigarettes, gave them newspapers and enthusiastically and sincerely explained to the soldiers the large-scale petitioning movement that occurred in the capital over the previous several days.
“An old lady who at first had shouted, ‘If you want to keep going, then drive over me!’ ended up giving the soldiers steamed bread and drinking water.”
A report by the New China News Agency that ran in this same Wednesday edition of the People’s Daily reported that in the previous few days, the air force, the navy and the Communist Party leadership of western China’s Lanzhou military district and the coastal Jinan military district “seriously studied the speeches of Li Peng and (Chinese President) Yang Shangkun at the (May 19 ) party, military and government cadres meeting in the capital.”
These military units had “expressed support for the important policy of the central leadership, and determined to contribute to the maintenance of a political situation of stability and unity,” the news agency reported.
The military, however, is not united in support of the martial-law declaration.
Since late last week, reports have circulated among some Chinese officials and party members that Defense Minister Qin Jiwei opposed the use of troops to quell the student-led demonstrations.
Reuters news agency Wednesday quoted an unidentified Western expert who expressed the view that Qin did in fact oppose the imposition of martial law.
“The majority of the senior People’s Liberation Army are thought to be in Qin’s camp,” Reuters quoted this source as saying.
Thousands of students still assembled in a makeshift squatters’ camp in Tian An Men Square on Wednesday expressed determination to carry on their struggle in the face of the uncertain political situation and the continued threat of military action.
Cai Ling, 23, a graduate student at Beijing Teachers University who on Wednesday morning was elected president of the independent student organization that has organized the protests, said the students have three basic demands for ending their occupation of the square:
-- The question of whether Premier Li can truly represent the government and the nation must be taken up by appropriate authorities.
-- Martial law must be canceled and the troops ringing the city must be withdrawn.