By John Kusumi
On Friday July 30, Dow Jones newswires and the Wall Street Journal reported that Li Lu, a former Tiananmen Square student leader, is likely to be hired as a successor to Warren Buffett, the legendary investor who runs Berkshire Hathaway and manages some $100 billion.
Mere thoughts of a Buffett successor can fire the imaginations of many who watch the tycoon game of Wall Street. Combine that with two loaded words — Tiananmen Square — and there is yet another line of thought that fires the imagination.
Those older than 40 will remember the occasion when it happened: College students of China led an uprising in favor of freedom, democracy, and human rights in mainland China. The CCP (Communist Party) sent in the army to remove demonstrators and clear the square, which was student-occupied territory for the seven weeks leading up to June 4, 1989. The oddly-named “People’s Liberation Army” opened fire with live ammunition, and now June 4 is remembered as the Tiananmen Square massacre, which killed thousands of unarmed Beijing residents. A crackdown followed, along with many more human rights abuses.
The government of China has still never changed, nor has it ever apologized to this day. In the West, to kill the protestors was seen as an outrage; an eye-popping atrocity; a crime against humanity. In China, to kill the protestors is a part of government policy, tacitly and explicitly. Those who praise Communist China today uphold that policy and that government action, whether or not they care to admit it. And a deeply flawed United States China policy has made every U.S. President from 1989 to the present into an accessory after the fact. One could wonder, what is worse — the atrocity in China, or the atrocious policy from the U.S. Executive Branch which “extended the service life” of the Communist Party?
I believe that communists, dictators, tyrants and thugs should not abuse with impunity; nor should they rule without accountability. In 1989, I had already studied and admired Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers who drafted the Declaration of Independence. It was evident to me that some Chinese students, who were running Tiananmen Square, had also studied such people as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry. I knew what they were doing; I was down with it; and therefore I launched the China Support Network, together with other American students to support the effort of the Chinese students.
Tiananmen Square was one of those occasions when world television broadcast the tragedy. Just like the Asian tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake in Haiti, ordinary people mobilized to pitch in and lend a hand. The China Support Network vaulted ahead of most groups, perhaps due to its use of the early internet and the CompuServe Information Service.
In Tiananmen Square, during the uprising, Li Lu was the vice-commander of Hunger Strike Headquarters. Hunger Strike Headquarters dominated one week out of the seven week demonstration in the square. In fact, by going on hunger strike, students had won the hearts and minds of ordinary Chinese citizens, who were jolted into joining the demonstrations. The hunger strike might have continued, but it was called off when Martial Law was declared by the Beijing government in advance of the army action.
Less than two months after the massacre, my CSN organization was called in to Washington DC to help Chinese students host a visit by five Chinese dissidents. For the entire first week of August 1989, CSN worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Chinese student groups and with the five dissidents — Li Lu was one of them. He had escaped from China by way of France, and the group was now about to reach Washington DC for the first time.
My week had a list of things to do. Rent hotel rooms. Rent wheels. Rent cell phones. Relay scheduling requests. Arrange the daybook. Answer journalist calls. Write press releases. Upload things. Download things. Visit Congress. Rally on Capitol Hill. March to the Chinese embassy. In the evenings, there was also time to socialize and make Sino – U.S. friendships at the Generation X level. I had to struggle with chopsticks, which are unfamiliar if you are raised by an Irish Catholic mother.
I guess that Hippies had the Summer of ’69, and GenXers had the Summer of ’89. They had Woodstock, and we had Tiananmen Square. (And we won’t ever let you forget about it, either! 🙂
Yet, the pace of CSN slowed after the Summer of ’89. It seemed that everybody was returning to college. The Chinese democracy movement had been an extracurricular activity. Those student leaders who had escaped from China and arrived in America got scholarships. Li Lu went to Columbia University, where I visited him upon his invitation to go swimming there. But I myself returned to Arizona State University, and the Chinese democracy movement split into factions: hardline, moderate, and sold out former dissidents who quit the playing field.
Li Lu may have signalled his future course of activity early in the game. Other student leaders, such as Shen Tong, previously advocated the use of “all available means” including sanctions, to put a stop to the Tiananmen crackdown. But, Li Lu articulated a view that “we want human rights, but we don’t want sanctions.” This remains the great schism in the middle of the Chinese democracy movement. Hardliners want sanctions, or what we’d now call economic pressure brought to bear to encourage human rights. Moderates want the rights, but not the pressure.
By the first week in August, 1989, we were already seeing the divide of factionalism which came to hobble the democracy movement. Li Lu had already planted his feet in the moderate camp. This may be one reason why the Tiananmen crackdown still continues even now, 21 years after the massacre. Two dissidents — Zhou Yongjun and Liu Xiaobo — are now in prison, each for his third interval as a political prisoner, post-Tiananmen.
Of course, dissident factionalism always gets the blame, but it is worth remembering that men such as George Bush Sr., Henry Kissinger, and Brent Scowcroft were running United States China policy. They rightly deserve blame for letting China get away with murder, with barely a slap on the wrist. In fact, many Americans were appalled at how President Bush handled (or failed to handle) the Tiananmen matter.
As I put it, Bush (and later Presidents) “extended the service life” of the Communist Party, at a time when we were just out of the Reagan years. We were accustomed to staunch anti-communism coming from the U.S. Executive Branch. But about the Tiananmen matter, there was nobody home at the U.S. Executive Branch.
U.S.-China policy even bothered Li Lu. I recall that he published an op-ed article, with headline “In China, I’d Be Dead.” The subheadline said, “And Bush Wouldn’t Care.” Bush’s China policy was so bad that Chinese dissidents lined up behind the challenger, Bill Clinton, in the next presidential election. Clinton promised a tougher China policy, and Americans voted for it.
Americans voted for it (Bill Clinton won). But, U.S. presidential elections had already become fraudulent occasions of fakery. Americans do not get what they vote for. They vote for change, and what happens is more of the same. Bill Clinton reduced, and did not increase, pressure on China. But, Li Lu had given a speech at the Democratic National Convention where Clinton was nominated. Chinese dissidents were used as political props, then discarded. This was Clintonian duplicity.
Li Lu continued at Columbia University until the late 1990s, when he dropped out of politics and started a Wall Street hedge fund, Himalaya Capital. He’s been a Wall Street hedge fund manager ever since, and came to the attention of Warren Buffett, who is now reported to be hiring Li Lu for a superstar role in the investment world.
A lot of Wall Street types will now react with sympathy to Li Lu. Does that mean a righteous aversion to the injustice of Tiananmen? Yes, it does. But, what is a trader to think next? Let’s imagine filling in the blank: “Tiananmen was bad. ________ ” Tiananmen was bad, and we still trade with that same regime — the politically un-reformed Communist Party. The one that continues to jail, torture, and kill dissidents even right now, today.
Here at the China Support Network, we believe that everyone should be agitating to “cut off the Communists.” Mainland China should be on the receiving end of a tariff for tyranny, a tariff for currency manipulation, a tariff for slave labor, a tariff for recklessness with the environment, a tariff for recklessness with consumer safety, and perhaps also a tariff for their disrespect of U.S. intellectual property. In fact, these tariffs are 21 years overdue. Washington still “owes us” a fitting response to Tiananmen Square.
The recent publishing about Li Lu exposes that there has been no justice for the atrocity at Tiananmen Square. There is no closure for victims or their families. The wound of history is still an open sore. The Communist Party and the U.S. Executive Branch both deserve pushback. CSN wants to congratulate Li Lu and invite everyone else to visit us at http://www.chinasupport.net.