Glasnost? Well, it's certainly similar to Moscow in 1987

PRESIDENT CLINTON'S question and answer session at Peking University and the landmark press conference at which he and President Jiang jousted "forbidden" topics like the Tiananmen Square killings and the Dalai Lama before a live television audience were vintage moments of early Chinese glasnost. No one knew in advance that either session would be broadcast, not even - apparently - President Clinton.

Before the press conference, he did not know whether he would be addressing 500 journalists or half of China, said one aide. It was the sort of surprise that drivers pulled off the road for and which neighbour related to neighbour.

But they were examples of early glasnost because no one knew to tune in, because subsequent reports omitted the most sensitive sections, and because they were novel enough to arouse controversy. They place China in terms of glasnost roughly where the former Soviet Union was in 1987, when Margaret Thatcher ran rings around three premier state television interviewers and told them that the world saw Soviet missiles as a threat. That interview was broadcast, late at night and unannounced, but it became a legend. So, too, did Ronald Reagan's epic exchange with Moscow University students a year later - and precisely 10 years before Mr Clinton's visit to China, where he quoted from banned writers, castigated obstructive bureaucrats everywhere, and preached individual freedom.

Some in Washington have criticised Mr Clinton for being mealy-mouthed, especially in his condemnation of Tiananmen Square - for "saying as little as he could get away with about the tragic loss of life more accurately called a massacre", in the words of William Safire. Others have compared his relatively low-key and at times even pedestrian manner in Peking unfavourably with the messianic spirit of President Reagan in Moscow - which a re-reading of the Reagan transcripts shows to be a fair criticism.

Yet there are parallels. The televised statements of foreign leaders can have an effect. Some of what Mr Clinton said will be remembered down the years in China, just as the words of Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan are remembered in Russia. They offered a different view, and they defended it.

One of the basic questions posed by the opening up of Russia and China is whether change is more successfully accomplished when political change precedes economic change, as in Russia, or when economic change precedes political change as in China. So far, analysts have seemed to favour the Chinese model, citing the chaotic post-Soviet economy, the supposed transfer of media control from the state to corrupt business interests, and the immaturity of party politics.

It can be argued, however, that while China's private sector is infinitely more developed than Russia's was before the fall of the Communist regime, China now faces a transition to political freedoms that must advance if economic progress is to continue. Certainly, many of the political phenomena that could be observed in the Soviet Union of the late Eighties are now surfacing in China.

The media in late Soviet Russia were almost as free to discuss local controversies and economic corruption as they are now in China. And when a new generation of journalists and students is emboldened to ask the sort of searching questions that Russian reporters and students were starting to ask about their system, and their Chinese counterparts are prepared to air in public forums today, the days of information dictatorship are numbered.

There are then only two questions to ask: whether the regime can change fast enough to accommodate that change, and if not, what then?

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Digital Content Officer - Central London - £33,000

£28000 - £33000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive (Digital Marketi...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform