Chinese PR

THE new intimidation and harassment of Western journalists in China is another in a series of chilling moves by Beijing to stifle dissent and free expression. More democracy in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central America? China's moving the other way. In past weeks, Western correspondents in China have been shadowed, bugged, and their sources have been interrogated. The Communist Party is attempting to cut off journalists from casual talks with Chinese; formal interviews with ordinary workers have to be cleared several Party levels higher than before. The Foreign Correspondents Club of Beijing has filed a protest.

Beijing is attempting public relations. What Chinese leaders don't realize is how pathetic the attempt seems to Westerners more accustomed to truth. Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin this week says tensions with the US result from ``a big misunderstanding'' created by inaccurate media accounts of Tiananmen Square. What Jiang understands about honest and accurate reporting is found in his speech on the correct role of journalism just reprinted in the People's Daily: Chinese reporters serve as a ``mouthpiece'' for the party - give ``publicity ... to the party's basic line'' - or face punishment.

Increasingly, the much-touted Jan. 11 lifting of martial law in Beijing appears to be what it actually was - propaganda. There isn't a need for martial law in Beijing because there isn't any open dissent. Those who have tried to speak have been hauled off to jail.

At the time, President Bush called the end of martial law ``a very sound step'' for human rights. Since then, there have been serious crackdowns on every aspect of Chinese life and institutions - students, professors, press, the police, work. Is this what Congress and the American public are to be ``tolerant'' about - to use Deputy Secretary of State Eagleburger's recent expression?

We think not. Official lines to Beijing should remain open. But a reexamination of the tone of US policy is in order.

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