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A SHAMEFUL MILESTONE IN CHINA

SHARE A SHAMEFUL MILESTONE IN CHINA

This Saturday China passes a shameful milestone its government would like to forget but the rest of the world should keep spotlighting.

We're referring, of course, to the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square against dissidents from a broad spectrum of Chinese society even though they were seeking only modest reforms and were demonstrating peacefully.Here it is five years later and thousands of people arrested in 1989 during the suppression of the Chinese democracy movement are still sitting out long prison sentences in grueling conditions that include physical abuse, poor food and inadequate medical treatment.

What's more, as each anniversary of this outrage approaches, Chinese authorities tighten police surveillance, step up arbitrary arrests and start trailing foreign journalists and even some diplomats.

This behavior betrays more than just the government's fear that a few small, symbolic acts of defiance in and around Beijing might spark larger protests. It also reflects the government's failure to learn some important lessons.

One of those lessons is that the strong are able to tolerate peaceful dissent; only the weak fear and try to suppress it. Another unlearned lesson is that while the human body can be imprisoned or annihilated, ideas and principles live on. So does the innate desire for freedom.

Eventually, Chinese authorities may learn those lessons, too. One reason for hoping so is that trade between China and free nations is gradually increasing. With more such trade should come more foreign factories inside China and more outside influence. Moreover, more trade can ultimately mean a more prosperous China. More prosperity should mean a bigger middle class. A bigger and stronger middle class, in turn, could ultimately take the lead in pressing for political changes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world can continue to do business with China without relenting on efforts to prod Beijing to improve its performance on human rights. Those efforts must include never letting Chinese leaders forget the continuing revulsion the world feels at the outrage in Tiananmen Square five years ago.