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

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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)
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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.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 22 January 2020

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.