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Exiled Dissidents Say China Still Lacks Political Freedom

Exiled Chinese dissidents say there is still no political freedom in their home country, 14 years after government tanks brutally crushed a pro-democracy demonstration in Beijing on June Fourth, 1989.

Wang Dan, Tong Yi and Liu Gang were all active in the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement that was centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

These three dissidents recently told the Congressional Executive Commission on China that since then though, the political climate in their home country has not improved.

Wang Dan is a former student leader from Peking University who is currently a graduate student at Harvard University. He said he is pessimistic the new Chinese leadership that took office in March will promote political reform.

"They are still Communist Party members - we have to keep, we have to remember that. They are still Communist Party members, so I don't think they can bring the real democracy or human rights to China," Mr. Wang said.

Another former student activist, Tong Yi, is now an associate with a New York law firm. She said it is too early to pass judgment on China's new leadership. But she said she is somewhat encouraged by President Hu Jintao's recent comments on the Chinese Constitution.

"I don't know whether he can or will do something real about turning the Constitution from a piece of paper to something really meaningful for all the citizens in China. I hope there's some positive development there and I certainly sense the legal scholars in China may sense - there might be an environment of change, and I sincerely hope to see something positive coming out of it," Ms. Tong said.

Liu Gang is another key student leader from 1989. He now works as an engineer in Denver, Colorado. Mr. Liu said the new Chinese leadership has the potential to allow some political change. "But I believe that they would not do it if there were no pressure from people, Chinese people, and from the international community. So, I hope American government still puts pressure on them. Don't expect that they will do that automatically," he said.

Wang Dan said he believes greater openness will come with future Chinese leaders, who have yet to take office. He added that it is not fair to blame young people in China for appearing self-interested and unconcerned with politics.

"I think for (a) young person, it's very easy for them to change interest. You know what I was doing in 1988? I went to dance school to learn break dance. But in 1989, I go to Tiananmen Square," Mr. Wang said.

In talking about present-day China, Ms. Tong invoked the values of an earlier student-led movement, the 1919 May Fourth Movement - which called for the promotion of both science and democracy. She said China has placed great emphasis on science, especially since many recent Chinese leaders have been technocrats who were trained in the former Soviet Union.

"And we are looking for a new leadership who will be professionals, like lawyers, doctors, political scientists, like what's happening in the United States. Yet, this process to go from technocrats to professional leadership, probably will take a long, long time," Ms. Tong said.

Ms. Tong said she believes political reform in China starts with an official re-evaluation of the June Fourth Movement, which the Chinese government has labeled counter-revolutionary. "That's the first hurdle China has to overcome in the road leading to democracy," she said.

The former student activist turned lawyer said she dreams of someday going back to a China that enjoys a strong sense of the rule of law. She added that she especially hopes the legal expertise she gains in the United States will come in handy when she does return home.