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Even though the U.S. Senate last week upheld President Bush's veto of a bill allowing Chinese students to prolong their stays in this country, many of the students here say they are not overly concerned that they will be deported.
Instead, since Bush has promised them the same protection through exeuctive action, they are more worried about the message Bush is sending to China. Specifically, they are apprehensive about the long-term implications Bush's veto will have on China's struggling pro-democracy movement.
When Bush first vetoed the bill in November, organizations representing the interests of more than 40,000 Chinese nationals studying in the United States launched extensive lobbying efforts in Congress, in the hope that both the House and Senate would override the President's veto.
They got early encouragement--the House gave a resounding 390-25 vote to override--but Bush rallied his forces in the Senate, avoiding an override there by four votes.
Bush had long declared that he would achieve the legislation's end by executive action, and would not let any students be deported, regardless of whether the specific law was passed.
But that did not comfort many of the students, who wanted more than mere protection from the president.
"It's really a severe blow for everybody involved with the democracy movement," said Sao Haiching, the Harvard post-doctoral fellow who chairs the National Committee on Chinese Affairs.
Bush had long opposed the bill because he said it would interfere with his Chinese foreign policy. But ever since Bush sent National security Advisor Brent Scowcroft to China last summer--shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre--his detractors have accused him of pandering to Chinese hard-liners.
Students this week agreed with that assessment, and said Bush should be more concerned with supporting democracy and human rights than diplomacy.
Bush is "sending the world the message that [the United States] does not really care as much about human rights as it says it does," said Joseph C. Kusnan '93, co-coordinator of Harvard Students for a Democratic China (HSDC).
"It is definitely the wrong message to give the Chinese government," said Zaho, who studies in the Harvard Biochemistry Department. "It lets the hardliners think they can continue their policies without worrying about international criticism."
Encourages Continued Intimidation
Zhao expressed concern that the veto would also encourage the Chinese government to continue what he termed its "intimidation" of pro-democracy activists and "harassment" of the families of those students.
"We have gotten reports that [Chinese government officials] have stepped up their efforts to discourage the students by warning that their families will have trouble if they continue with their democratic activities," he said.
Kusnan said Bush's reliance on his own personal assessment of the situation in china is especially troubling.
Bush "considers himself the preeminent China expert in Washington because of the President's term as United States ambassador to Beijing in the 1970's," Kusnan said. "The problem with Bush is that he is playing a global game using 1970s rules. He's still trying to play the China card even though the changes in Eastern Europe have radically altered the structure of international relations."
HSDC already has a new letter-writing campaign in the works for this spring, aimed at changing Bush's stance toward China, Kusnan said.
In addition, Kusnan said the organization will focus on commemorating the first anniversary of the Beijing killings with a special concert featuring various popular musicians.
Zhao said his 42,000-member organization would need time to rethink before planning its next move.
But even with this recent setback, Zhao said he is confident that democracy will ultimately win out in China.
"The hardliners are in a very insecure place," Zhao said. "The situation in China is very unstable right now and even a small incident could turn the country into another Romania."
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