The vote was before the Senate. The Majority Leader was leading the floor vote. The issue was whether or not to reward China with increased trade so soon after a major political repression. Something you missed in the news about Tibet? No this was the first time, what made Tibet possible, and told the Chinese government that shooting unarmed protesters and running over them with tanks was okay. Tiananman Square, 1989, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
See, no one thought that with the eyes of the world's media upon it, the Chinese could do such a thing. We know violent repressions are nothing new in this world, in fact it's a way of doing business in many places. This was different. ABC, NBC, the New York Times and every other paper in the world was working with the idealistic Beijing University students who had organized the mass demonstration for a more equitable distribution of the recent economic boom, which was being stolen by party bosses, the business class connected with the party bosses, and the upper-level bureaucracy. There were rumors of the army about to be called out to "restore order," but they wouldn't dare. These students were the next generation, the promise that the Chinese government might someday join the ranks of civilized governments. They quoted Thomas Jefferson, they built a statue reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty. Democracy was on the march in places like Berlin and Romania. They believed we lived in a new day in which the world would not let this happen. Would take care of them and erupt in outrage if the Chinese government tried to do things the old-fashioned way.
Which they did. They threw the foreign press out, abruptly sealed off the city, brought in tanks and truckloads of soldiers', and told the students to disperse or else.
I still have the moving photos from the book "Children of the Dragon," showing students pleading with soldiers in their trucks not to fire on them, to join them as comrades, handing them flowers. I can see in my mind perfectly the haunted looks in some of the soldiers faces.
They were mowed down with machine guns and run over with tanks. I held a picture of a crushed bicycle once before the motorcade of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who came to power in the wake of Tiananman, when he was welcomed many years later by the president of Harvard Larry Summers, as it passed through Harvard Square and a crush of human rights protesters. Zemin was in town at the end of a state visit with Bush Senior. Bill Clinton outdid Bush when he was in power, and gave Zemin a state visit which included the honor accorded only to the fewest international leaders, a 21-gun salute.
But most especially I remember the year just after the Tiananman Square Massacre, when it was being debated whether to grant China Most Favored Nation trade status, in the US Senate. It was still unclear whether or not the Chinese government would be welcomed into the ranks of civilized nations so soon after Tiananman Square. Most of the Democrats were against it or had serious qualms, and the Bush Senior administration was pushing for it. Many people couldn't believe we were even talking about this so soon after the pathetic images of bodies in Tiananman Square and flattened tents had exited the country through brave protesters using the new technology of the fax machine, so that the world knew what was happening.
With the fate of the bill unclear, I remember, Senator Kerry, that you stepped forward with a compromise deal to grant China MFN, rather than fighting like hell against these butchers getting away with this. The movement against MFN might have picked up steam and a statement might have been made to the Chinese government: No, this is not okay. Instead, I remember very clearly, you said a compromise bill with a few conditions, like periodic review, was better than the Republicans getting the whole enchilada, since you said they had the votes. But we didn't know that. Instead of digging in and making the Republicans explain to outraged Americans why China was being rewarded, keeping them on the hot-seat since the Republicans' own constituents found this revolting, you bailed them out. It had to be a Democrat who broke ranks, to give political cover, and you were it. I remember just how it went down.
I passed out flyers in front of your office in government center asking people to call you in protest, and one guy said he walked right into your office and slapped it on your receptionists' desk. Did you ever get that?
I worked for your campaign before that, and much, much later, I supported your campaign against Bush because it was my patriotic duty to dislodge the man who made premeditated war on Iraq.
So I guess I came around, eventually. But I remember. Oh yes, I remember. We wore black armbands that day, June 5th, 1989, and I saw some women crying listening to the news reports and the radio. They were killing the students. The young beautiful, people we saw dancing in Tiananman Square celebrating their ability to bring good change to their nation, and out of sheer youthful exuberance.
Now China does whatever it wants to Tibetans, and still gets the Olympics. Because long ago, they were told it was OK.