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India & China: Two Asian giants mark their darkest days

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By Hardev Sanotra 

As India recalled its darkest period 40 years ago in June, China too marked its worst days in its recent history in same the month. But the remembrance of the events 29 years ago was more in the breach here.

On June 4, 1989 tanks of the People’s Liberation Army and its personnel armed with automatic rifles shot dead hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters in Tiananmen Square. No official figures have ever been released but protestors said they had seen thousands of bodies strewn in and around the square.

The Chinese government said it had used strong force to crush a ‘counter-revolutionary plot’ which was aimed at overthrowing those in power. But the students who were protesting from April said they were seeking “more democracy” in a nation which had not seen any.

On the 26th anniversary of the massacre, there was not much of a protest at the famed square with thousands of police personnel keeping a watch for any spontaneous show of anger against the government. The army kept a vigil from the shadows. This has been repeated every year since, with the government putting in overwhelming force to keep any protests at bay.

On the last day of June, the scene at the square was of a tourist paradise. Thousands of Chinese from Beijing and elsewhere descended on the square where the biggest killings took place. But for them it was as if the massacre did not happend. Only residents of Hong Kong, China’s Special Administrative Region, gather the courage to protest every year, as they did this year, with thousands coming out on the streets.

The power of the state, and its control over the minds of its citizens in mainland China, has not reduced much in almost three decades, though prosperity has spread wide. The Chinese are afraid to talk to a journalist about what had happened so many years ago. Even those Beijing residents who could not have missed the events are cagey. Most took refuge behind a language they said they do not understand. Only if one can catch an individual were fear of prying eyes is absent, do they open up about the “monumental tragedy” that befell the country and as it being the “most shameful episode” in its history.

The protests in Beijing were triggered by the death of Hu Yaobang, an ex-General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party, seen as a reformer who lost out in an internal power struggle with the hardliners winning and consolidating their position. Students from all over Beijing came to the Tiananmen Square to register their protest.

The protests, which went on for seven weeks, made news all around the world. They also took a cue from the Glasnost or openness being spread by Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia, The students, and their supporters, built a rough replica of the Statue of Liberty, demanding that the government grant them freedom of speech, allow the press a free hand and restore workers’ say in industry. It was a powerful movement with more than a million people, according to one estimate, filling the vast expanse of the square near downtown Beijing.

At first the government made some conciliatory noises. The press was allowed to report the protests and people came to know why the protests were happening. But when they spread to dozens of other cities, ‘Paramount Leader’ Deng Xiaping, who had ushered in economic reforms, decided to show his iron hand. The market reforms earlier had led to widespread unhappiness with the system, with corruption creeping in. Hu had protested against the corruption and had wanted political freedoms to keep pace with the economic reforms.

This was not to be. Deng ordered over 300,000 troops to crush the movement. Although in China it’s called the June 4th incident in hushed tones, the crackdown started the day before. Automatic fire was heard throughout the evening and night and when dawn broke, Beijing could hardly grasp the enormity of the massacre. TV and newspapers, again under the grip of the state, reported none of the details except to deride the protests. Foreign reporters could barely begin to understand the dimensions of the deadly force used, before many of them were asked to leave.

An iconic picture and video from the crackdown showed a Chinese, possibly a farmer confronting a line of tanks. He moved to stop the tanks again when they sought to bypass him, before he is forcibly taken away by other civilians. The ‘tank hero’, as he was called, was never traced. He just vanished, just as much of the history in China has vanished, leaving behind only official versions.

Although India came to grips with its 21 months of autocratic rule by prime minister Indira Gandhi after the end of the emergency, the Chinese were never allowed to do any soul searching. Yet, in the minds and hearts of those who are old enough to remember, the events remain as the darkest chapter in their history. Yet, like any totalitarian regime, the Chinese government has been able to wipe the events of 1989 clean from the political slate and from public discourse. (IANS)

(Hardev Sanotra is in China at the invitation of the All China Journalists’ Association. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at hardev.sanotra@ians.in)

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U.S. Tariffs on China Could Remain Same, Even After Reaching The Trade Deal

Tariffs on imported automobiles — as are being contemplated by the White House — "would be counterproductive, like we have seen with steel tariffs," said Srinivasan, who was part of former President Barack Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership task force.

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Trade Deal
Shipping containers, including one labeled "China Shipping," are stacked at the Paul W. Conley Container Terminal in Boston, Mass., May 9, 2018. VOA

U.S. tariffs on China are likely to remain in place for a while, even if a trade deal is reached, President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday.

“The deal is coming along nicely,” the president said about the trade talks with Beijing, noting U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would be heading to China within days to continue discussions.

“We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars right now in tariff money, and for a period of time that will stay,” Trump said.

The president’s remarks indicated that Washington’s tariffs could stay in place until U.S. officials are convinced the Chinese are adhering to the terms of the agreement.

“They’ve had a lot of problems living by certain deals,” the president noted on the White House South Lawn just before boarding the Marine One helicopter.

President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio from the White House in Washington, March 20, 2019.
President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio from the White House in Washington, March 20, 2019. VOA

China might accept a deal in which most of the U.S. tariffs are rolled back, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow David Dollar, but he said he expected President Xi Jinping would not accept any pact in which no tariffs were lifted.

“It’s very hard for the Chinese president to agree to a deal that’s so clearly asymmetric. Chinese people are so active on the internet and social media, and President Xi will hear about it from the people if he makes a deal that looks bad for China,” Dollar told VOA.

Tit-for-tat tariffs imposed last year ignited fears of a trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, which annually trade more than a half-trillion dollars’ worth of goods.

The value of Chinese products sold in the United States far outweighs the value of those sent to China, and that deficit alone represents about 80 percent of America’s overall trade gap in goods.

A pillar of the Trump presidency has been reducing that huge gap by negotiating bilateral trade deals and rebuilding the U.S. manufacturing base.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters as he arrives at Allen County Airport, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters as he arrives at Allen County Airport, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio. VOA

Trump traveled Wednesday to an area in Ohio where General Motors is set to shutter a car assembly plant, affecting about 1,500 jobs and undercutting the president’s manufacturing revival message.

“What’s going on with General Motors?” Trump asked during a speech. “Get that plant open or sell it to somebody and they’ll open it. Everybody wants it.”

“Intervening to try to keep one factory open isn’t going to do much for the economy” at a time when manufacturing is declining as a share of the overall job market, said Dollar, of the Brookings Institution. “It’s a bad precedent for politicians to intervene like that.”

A resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Claude Barfield, agrees presidents should not intervene in individual corporate decisions.

“The president is woefully ignorant about trade and this part of the economy. He thinks it does help. I don’t think it does at all help,” Barfield, a former consultant to the office of the U.S. trade representative, told VOA.

The closure of the GM plant in Lordstown, according to a Cleveland State University study, will result in a total loss of 7,700 jobs in the region, including supply chain and consumer services employment tied to the auto plant, cutting 10 percent of the gross regional product in the greater Youngstown area.

Trump, in his remarks on Wednesday, placed some of the blame on the United Auto Workers, the union representing the GM workers.

“Your union leaders aren’t on our side,” Trump declared. “They could have kept General Motors” operating the Lordstown plant.

FILE - Employees watch as the last Chevrolet Cruze rolls off the assembly line at the General Motors Co. assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, March 6, 2019, in this photo obtained from social media.
Employees watch as the last Chevrolet Cruze rolls off the assembly line at the General Motors Co. assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, March 6, 2019, in this photo obtained from social media. VOA

Trump spoke at a facility in Lima that makes the M1 Abrams tank for the U.S. Army, about 300 kilometers from the idled auto factory.

“You better love me. I kept this place open,” Trump told workers at the General Dynamics facility, which was nearly closed six years ago after Army officials told Congress they did not need the additional tanks.

Workers listen as President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Lima Army Tank Plant, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio.
Workers listen as President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Lima Army Tank Plant, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio. VOA

Ohio, which Trump won in the 2016 election by 8 percentage points, again will be a key battleground state in next year’s presidential election.

Polls in the Buckeye State, where the president relies on a strong base of working-class voters, show his approval rating slipping.

Trade and tariffs are “not even the core issue about retaining the manufacturing jobs in this region,” University of Akron associate professor Mahesh Srinivasan, who is director of the school’s Institute of Global Business, told VOA.

Srinivasan said the focus by the Trump administration should not be so much on trade agreements as on “the inevitable march of automation and technology that has displaced workers from traditional jobs. The need of the hour is doubling down with even more emphasis on worker training and education to prepare the workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.”

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Tariffs on imported automobiles — as are being contemplated by the White House — “would be counterproductive, like we have seen with steel tariffs,” said Srinivasan, who was part of former President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership task force. “It could attract retaliatory tariffs that will negatively impact numerous automobile manufacturers in Ohio and other Midwestern states, which today are supplying to automobile manufacturers globally.”

Some trade analysts agree that Trump’s metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico have hurt American manufacturing, including making U.S. auto plants less competitive. (VOA)