To the Editors of The Crimson:
Secretary of State James Baker III recently announced his intention to visit China later this month, breaking a de facto U.S. ban on high-level contacts since the summer of 1989. His mission is to express U.S. concerns to the Chinese government. But to his counterparts in Beijing, the trip is significant mostly for its symbolic value.
Popular approval of the Beijing leadership nosedived after the pro-democracy demonstrations were brutally crushed in June of 1989. The power-holders have since scrambled to maintain internal control and stifle dissent while seeking to improve their image among the populace. Recent visits by the leaders of Britain, Japan, and Italy have been fully exploited by the official media for their symbolic worth.
But what Beijing really wants is to resume official contact with the United States. And Baker's visit, through the distorting lens of the official media, will deliver to the Chinese people a very disappointing message that the United States is ready to forget the past and resolidify its relationship with the Beijing leadership.
The two-day visit will be laden with symbols lending themselves to manipulation by the Beijing government. Scenes of Baker at Tiananmen Square or meeting with Chinese President Yang Shangkun offer poignant snapshots of the Chinese leadership's renewed respectability. Whatever the secretary of state discusses with the Beijing leadership, whether human rights, arms proliferations, or trade concerns, the Chinese citizenry will be presented with one view: that the United States needs Beijing.
In his visit, Baker must not limit himself to representing American hopes through dialogue with Chinese leadership alone. He also must make clear to China's people that the United States, although ready to resume links with Beijing, has not forgotten the cause of the students in Tiananmen Square.
While in Beijing, the best way to express America's heartfelt concern for human rights and the cause of democracy is for Baker to visit the campus of Peking University. As the heart of all pro-democracy planning and activities in the spring of 1989, Peking University is the epicenter of China's young and progressive forces. A stop at the campus will let them know that America stands behind its earlier statements of support for their cause.
A stop at the university could be planned or unplanned, official or unofficial. Once there, Baker need not stay or do anything specific. In fact, to prevent government cries of "meddling in internal affairs," his visit should be nothing more than a campus tour. No political concerns should be raised in order to avoid directly offending the Chinese leadership. And though the official media may not carry news of such a visit, it will spread by word of mouth throughout Beijing and other parts of China, just as news of the army's slaughter of students did in 1989.
If Baker makes a stop at Peking University, he will keep alive in the hearts of many Chinese their desire for a just and democratic China, knowing that the United States shares their hopes. If he fails to do so, all the symbolic resources of the visit will remain in the hands of the Chinese leadership. Daniel G. Silver GSAS, Regional Studies-East Asia