How China's neighbors view 'gang of four' trial: with cynicism, boredom, or interest

Throughout Asia, China's trial of the "gang of four" is getting widespread press coverage. But that does not necessarily mean there is deep interest in the "palace intrigue" or in the personal and ideological rivalries that are being dramatized in China's most spectacular effort so far to demonstrate its new legal codes.

In fact, there is widespread cynicism over what is often seen as a "show trial," designed to confirm the winners of the latest power struggle and to "settle old scores."

Even overseas Chinese in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia often show boredom and apathy: "This kind of palace intrigue and plotting, as shown in the trial, has been going on for thousands of years in China," as elderly Chinese woman noted. "Why should it interest me? For the young it may be different. Everything seems new."

Daily dispatches in Hong Kong's Chinese- and English- language newspapers are relatively well received, because many Hong Kong residents are intensely involved with China. Some travel in and out, and many have relatives there. Hence, gossip and speculation about the progress of the trial, and about the ups and downs of Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping and Chairman Hua Guofeng are natural.

Also, Hong Kong's left-wing press, presumed to take marching orders from Peking, has called for execution of at least some of the "gang" so as to build the confidence of foreign investors and overseas Chinese. Jiang Qing (the late Chairman Mao's widow) and Zhang Chunqiao are the ones most often prescribed for the firing squad.

At the other extreme, perhaps, is India. There, an often inward-looking press omits the daily trial coverage found in East and Southeast Asia. "The trial is not taken very seriously in India," an Indian correspondent here comments.

With good reason, newspapers on Taiwan (regarded by both Communists and Nationalists as a Chinese province) take the trial seriously.

In addition of often-daily wire service accounts, Nationalist officials and political analysts write commentaries. The general tenor is that the trial is not a genuine legal proceeding but a camouflage cover for a continuing power struggle between Deng Xiaoping and his opponents.

Government analysts in Taiwan are known among Western China-watchers for their often keen perceptions into politics on mainland China. This was demonstrated once again by a November 1980 report from Taiwan's Central News Agency. It said that the trial is likely to serve as a battlefield in the power struggle between Mr. Hua and Mr. Deng.

Deng may well use Hua's previous association with Miss Jiang, the leader of the "gang of four," to force Hua to step down. Recent reports that Hua is about to lose the Communist Party chairmanship tend to confirm the Taiwan analysis.

In Japan there is widespread coverage of the trial, but also much of the traditional Japanese unwillingness to criticize China directly.Some editorials have said that despite Chinese declarations that the trial is about "crimes," not "political errors," there is still a credibility gap, because the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, firmly backed by the late Mao, seems to be on trial.

The trials demonstrate a wholesale shift in the Chinese line. Thus Japanese cannot be blamed for caution in investing money in current Chinese modernization efforts, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper recently noted.

In many Southeast Asian countries with large populations of overseas Chinese, the trials have often received daily coverage. In Singapore, for instance, where more than 75 percent of its 2.5 million people are ethnic Chinese, it might seem there would be wide interest in the trial.

But Singaporeans often show a lack of concern. Many of them see the trial as a political show, a power struggle in which Deng is trying to discredit the left-wing opposition to prevent its comeback.

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