William Stanton: Xi Jinping steers China back to Mao era

Former AIT director speaks of today's China in interview with BBC on 31st anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre

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William Stanton (CNA photo)

William Stanton (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, retired American diplomat William Stanton expressed disappointment over China's backwards trajectory under Xi Jinping's (習近平) leadership in an interview with the BBC on Thursday (June 4).

Stanton, the former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director, was at that time working as a top secretary at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, witnessing the student-led pro-democracy movement up close. He told the BBC that he took part in the negotiations between then U.S. ambassador to Beijing James Roderick Lilley and the communist government.

During the year-long negotiations, he met the Chinese astrophysicist and pro-democracy leader Fang Lizhi (方勵之), who had sought refuge in the embassy, as a main liaison officer, which inspired Stanton to look at the regime differently.

The former diplomat emphasized that despite his appreciation for the culture and people of China, he thinks there's a much truer representation of Chinese culture in Taiwan and Hong Kong, though the situation is changing in the city-state at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta.

The Communist Party of China (CCP) is heading backwards to where it was under Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) dictatorial rule, he noted, with political progress apparently halted since Xi assumed leadership in 2012. Though the country has to some extent become more open in terms of culture and society, it is still laboring under an authoritarian political system that has gotten worse since 2012.

In the era of Xi, the regime began to take a harder political and economic line, strengthening its grip on state-owned enterprises and adopting both a more aggressive trade and foreign policy. As an example of the country's recent tactics, Stanton offered up China's controversial "Thousand Talents Program" — a facade through which Beijing has been purloining American research and technology.

Under such circumstances, he recommended the U.S. government take strong measures against China, conveying his surprise that some American politicians and scholars today remain insistent on engagement rather confrontation with the communist regime. "The reality is, the CCP treats the U.S. and democratic systems as an enemy, just as how it treats Hong Kong and Taiwan," he added.

"They should ask the CCP why it can't stop repressing Hong Kong, bullying Taiwan, and expanding militarily in the South China Sea. Or perhaps they should ask the communist regime why it can't end its ongoing oppression of the Muslim Uyghur population of Xinjiang, the Tibetan people, the Christians, and the doctors and reporters who speak the truth."