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
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
Sport
Premier League Live Saturday 23 August
sportAll the action from today's Premier League matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
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
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

JavaScript Developer (C++ / C# / HTML, Java Angular.js) London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A world leading business intellig...

Application Support Analyst-(UNIX, Linux, Financial Services)

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support Analyst-(UNIX...

Application Support Analyst - SQL, UNIX, Linux

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support Analyst - SQL...

Application Support - FIX protocol, UNIX, SQL, Windows, OMS

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support - FIX protoco...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition