Li Peng, the ‘Butcher of Beijing’, dies aged 90

1 / 2
In this Oct. 24, 2017, photo, former Chinese Premier Li Peng, reach for his neck during the closing session of China's 19th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (AP)
2 / 2
This photo taken on December 11, 1991 in Beijing shows Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng delivering a speech prior to his departure to India. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019

Li Peng, the ‘Butcher of Beijing’, dies aged 90

  • Two days before the declaration of martial law, Li met with student leaders, who cut him off and rebuked him for not addressing their demands in a surreal scene broadcast live on television

BEIJING: Former Chinese premier Li Peng — known as the “Butcher of Beijing” for his role in the Tiananmen Square crackdown — has died at the age of 90, state media said Tuesday.
Li died of an unspecified illness in Beijing after he failed to respond to medical treatment late Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Li gained notoriety worldwide as one of the key architects of the brutal breakup of mass pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital on June 4, 1989, and stayed at the top of the Communist regime for more than a decade — remaining a hated symbol of the repression until his death.
Xinhua said Tuesday that Li “took decisive measures to stop the turmoil... and played an important role in this major struggle concerning the future fate of the party and the country.”
After vast crowds of students, workers and others had been encamped for weeks in Tiananmen Square to demand change, Li proclaimed martial law on May 20, 1989.
Two weeks later, on the night of June 3-4, the military put a bloody end to the protests, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians — by some estimates more than 1,000.
Though the decision to send in the troops was a collective one, Li was widely held responsible for the bloody crackdown.
It trailed him to the end of his official political career in 2003, with his trips abroad generating widespread protests — such as in Paris in 1996, where more than 2,000 took to the streets to decry his welcome by president Jacques Chirac.
Nevertheless, he remained a member of the elite Politburo Standing Committee for 15 years and for most of the 1990s, ranked number two behind then Chinese president Jiang Zemin.
He held the premiership for 11 years until 1998, and was chairman of China’s Communist-controlled parliament until 2003.
Former student leader Wu’er Kaixi, who famously confronted Li during a televised meeting and now lives in Taiwan, said his death “can’t bring any comfort to the families of the victims of June 4.”
“I believe that even if he dies, there will come a day when his corpse will be whipped!” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Chinese Internet censors were swift in blocking all comments about Li as news of his death spread, but before the cleanup several people had written on the Twitter-like platform Weibo that they “dare not say what he did.”

Li spent his childhood in the shadow of Zhou Enlai, China’s premier for nearly three decades and possibly the Communist Party’s most skilled politician.
Born in 1928 in the southwestern province of Sichuan, Li was adopted at the age of three by Zhou after his Communist father became a “martyr of the Revolution,” killed by the Kuomintang in 1931.
He joined the Communist Party at the age of 17 and was dispatched to Moscow in 1948 for seven years of hydropower engineering study.
After returning to China, his high-level family contacts allowed him to escape the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and rise through the energy ministry. He became premier in 1987.
A conservative economic planner thought to retain faith in the old Soviet style of central planning, he was a key player in the Three Gorges Dam hydro project on the Yangtze river — the world’s largest by capacity.
When demonstrations erupted at Tiananmen in 1989, he and other hard-liners outmaneuvered dovish officials, with Li afterwards defending the decision to fire on demonstrators as “necessary.”

Two days before the declaration of martial law, Li met with student leaders, who cut him off and rebuked him for not addressing their demands in a surreal scene broadcast live on television.
In later years, Li tried to minimize his role in the bloodshed, presenting himself as merely executing decisions made by Deng Xiaoping — who died in 1997 — and other party elders, according to extracts from a diary published in 2010 and attributed to Li.
But in the “Tiananmen Papers,” apparently secret Communist Party documents made public in the US in 2001, Li instead appears to be the instigator of the crackdown, striving to convince Deng to send tanks to the square.
The authenticity of these documents has never been proven. Communist authorities block discussion of the crackdown.
A father of three, Li saw his family’s reputation tarnished in the early 2000s by his son Li Xiaopeng, then president of Huaneng Power International, who was suspected of having enriched himself by buying shares in the firm.
His daughter Li Xiaolin — who reportedly resigned as vice president of a state-owned power company in 2018 — is also known for her luxurious tastes.


Philippines warns of ‘unfriendly’ greeting for uninvited warships

Updated 20 August 2019

Philippines warns of ‘unfriendly’ greeting for uninvited warships

  • There have been multiple sightings of Chinese warships in Philippine territorial waters
  • The Philippines has lodged several diplomatic protests in recent weeks

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned of “unfriendly” treatment for foreign ships traveling in the country’s territorial waters without permission, in a rare swipe at China’s use of warships just a few miles off Manila’s coast.
Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, on Tuesday made the demand for transparency amid frustration by the Philippine military at multiple sightings this year of Chinese warships moving within the country’s 12 mile territorial sea, at various locations in the archipelago.
“All foreign vessels passing our territorial waters must notify and get clearance from the proper government authority well in advance of the actual passage,” Panelo said.
“Either we get a compliance in a friendly manner or we enforce it in an unfriendly manner,” he added.
Panelo did not refer to China by name, nor elaborate on what that enforcement might entail.
The Philippines has lodged several diplomatic protests in recent weeks over the activities of Chinese coast guard, navy and paramilitary fishing vessels in Philippine-controlled areas of the South China Sea and in its territorial waters.
The armed forces has released images and cited witness sightings between February and early August of Chinese warships off Palawan and Tawi Tawi islands, a pattern that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week described as an “irritant.”
Duterte is facing heat at home for what critics say is his passive approach to Chinese provocations in exchange for a business relationship with Beijing that is not working out well for him, with promised investments slow in coming.
Though surveys consistently show Duterte enjoying a level of domestic approval never seen at this point in a presidency, the same polls show growing disdain for China over its conduct in the South China Sea, and reservations among some Filipinos over a massive influx of Chinese online gaming workers under Duterte.
Duterte will visit China from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2, his spokesman said. He has promised to discuss a South China Sea 2016 international arbitration victory over China with counterpart Xi Jinping.
Duterte has until now chosen not to push that ruling, which invalidated China’s claim of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. Beijing did not participate in the court proceedings and rejected the ruling.
The South China Sea is a vital route for ships carrying more than $3 trillion in trade every year. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it.