Biggest trial in China since '80 ready to start Top political aide linked to '89 protest

July 21, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- China's divided leadership finally has settled on a political scapegoat for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests: the chief aide of ousted Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang.

The longtime aide, Bao Tong, 59, is expected to be put on trial in secret today on charges of "leaking state secrets" and "inciting counterrevolutionary propaganda," according to his relatives.

The closed-door trial represents a compromise to a long-stalled effort by the party to close the books on the massive pro-democracy demonstrations that were brutally crushed by the Chinese army June 3-4, 1989.

The proceeding is China's most important political trial since the 1980 sentencings of the so-called Gang of Four -- Mao DTC Tse-tung's widow, Jiang Qing, and three other ultra-leftists -- who were held responsible for leading the disastrous

Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.

China has rejected requests by the United States and other countries that independent observers be allowed to witness Mr. Bao's trial. Even his family will not be allowed to attend.

It is virtually certain that Mr. Bao will be found guilty. But the severity of his sentence, which could be more than 10 years, may provide some insight to the status of the power struggle between party leftists and reformers.

Political divisions within the party have rendered it unable to try Mr. Zhao, who has been under house arrest in Beijing since losing the party's top post as a result of the Tiananmen protests.

But a trial of Mr. Bao has emerged as a way to attack the former party chief's moderately reformist political policies as the main source of the protests.

Mr. Bao has been imprisoned since May 1989, but he was not formally charged until January of this year.

China analysts believe that Mr. Bao is being tried now in an effort to lay to rest the Tiananmen affair before the opening of a key party congress this fall, a meeting that could result in top-level leadership shifts.

There has been speculation that blaming Mr. Bao may constitute part of a deal opening the way for the rehabilitation of other former followers of Mr. Zhao in time for the party congress.

Some of these reformers are said to be primed for a return to power with the blessing of China's patriarch, Deng Xiaoping, who this year launched a new drive for economic

liberalization.

But Mr. Bao's trial is also a clear sign that "the party congress will only be about economic reform and definitely not about political reforms or any initiatives in the field of justice," a European diplomat said here yesterday. "There's not going to be any political liberalization."

The party's leadership, now said to be sequestered at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, may still issue an official verdict on Mr. Zhao after Mr. Bao's trial, likely one saying that he mishandled the Tiananmen turmoil but did not abet the "counterrevolutionary" protesters. A political comeback for the 73-year-old former party general secretary remains unlikely.

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