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?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London