by Dan Martin
BEIJING, May 31, 2009 (AFP) - Former top Chinese Communist official Bao Tong was purged for supporting the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, but he says his frustrations with the system started decades before.
"China's people have wasted 60 years," Bao, now one of the country's top political dissidents, told AFP recently - before authorities moved him out of Beijing to wait out Thursday's 20th anniversary of the deadly crackdown.
His harsh assessment of the history of the People's Republic of China, founded in October 1949, is one few ordinary Chinese would dare to make.
But the 76-year-old Bao, once a top aide to former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang, is not your average citizen.
He has spent the past 20 years either in jail, under house arrest or facing other restrictions in his small west Beijing flat, just one block from a major road where protesters battled tanks and troops.
He sees no sign of political openness on the horizon and says Beijing's failure to come clean on the events of June 3-4, 1989 and give justice to victims has been a key factor stunting democratic development.
"It has had a seriously negative impact. It has made China a country with no voice.... a country in which no one can demand fairness," he said in the interview at his apartment.
"I am a sample on display," Bao says with a smirk, charging the government only allows foreign journalists to interview him to give the impression of openness, while preventing anything he says from being disseminated in China.
Bao was dragged down along with Zhao, who was ousted from his position as general secretary of the Communist Party for sympathising with the student protesters who had rallied for weeks.
Zhao had opposed the use of force against the demonstrators, but was overruled by party hardliners. Hundreds, and possibly thousands, were killed in the army crackdown.
Bao, who once directed a top Communist party political reform office, is still lean and energetic.
He now spends much of his time doing interviews with or fielding calls from foreign media on a phone whose ring tone is the Disney theme "It's a Small World."
Bao said China's current leaders bear no blame for what happened in Tiananmen Square - and could earn great praise both at home and abroad on this anniversary by being more forthcoming.
"They are still the nation's leaders and I hope they can openly tell the Chinese people and the world what happened," he said.
But the party's unwillingness to admit any mistakes will prevent that and the Chinese people are too intimidated to demand such honesty, he added.
Much of the blame lies with the rest of the world for refusing to push China to heal the wounds, said Bao, adding that other countries were increasingly hesitant to rile China due to its growing economic and diplomatic clout.
"Not wanting to offend China means they cannot help China, cannot help China's people attain their own rights, and cannot help the world community gain a reliable, stable, peaceful member," he said.
"This is not a good thing."
As the Communist Party gears up to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, Bao said there was little to celebrate.
The party wasted a lifetime with collectivisation of the economy launched in 1953, only to come full circle with today's run-away capitalism.
"(We) have come back to the original point. The work of 1.3 billion people has been wasted for 56 years," he said.
"This is a crime greater than (the Tiananmen crackdown)."
Bao expressed delight with the May release in English of Zhao's memoirs, put together from secret tape recordings the deposed leader made while under house arrest. His son, Bao Pu, is publishing the Chinese version of the book.
He said he hoped the book, likely to be banned in China, could somehow be distributed in the country and spark debate.
But he admitted the ghosts of Tiananmen would not likely be laid to rest any time soon due to the nature of a government for which he wishes he had never worked.
"I regret that I only realised all of this 20 years ago. Why couldn't I have realised it 40 years ago or 60 years ago?" he lamented.