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A Test Of China's Openness

On Chinese television, Monday, President Clinton carried a message of freedom into Beijing university. Nine years ago, the same school sprouted the democracy movement of Tiananmen Square, reports CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley.

"We do not seek to impose our vision on others, but we are convinced that certain rights are universal, the right to be treated with dignity, the right to express one's opinions, to choose one's own leaders," said Mr. Clinton.

CBS.com reports on President Clinton's trip to China
The words were extraordinary in a society of controlled media such as China. In fact, many Chinese were unaware of the 1989 Tiananmen crack down until Friday, when Mr. Clinton condemned it in a news conference.

The openness -- stirred by the president -- has prompted china's most famous political prisoner to speak out for the first time. Bao Tong spent 8 years in prison and was the highest-ranking government official jailed in the democracy movement. He risked his liberty again to speak with CBS News.

In terms of Tiananmen, Bao Tong may be the most important voice of freedom in all of China. In 1989, he was a member of the central committee. He tried to stop the planning for the slaughter. However, the hard-liners threw him in jail. Since his release last year, he has been warned to keep quiet. He is under near constant surveillance.

CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley spoke with Bao:

BAO: "According to the constitution I have the freedom of speech. However, whether I do indeed have the freedom of speech I do not know. I think CBS can conduct a test. Let's see whether I get into trouble after your interview with me. If so, it will demonstrate that our government does not respect our own constitution."

PELLEY: "What should Americans understand about the struggle in china?"

BAO: "If people can check and balance the power of the government, then the government can become a force that safeguards world peace, otherwise it can become a dangerous force."

In 1989, Bao and Chinese premier Zhao Zhang argued against force. But Bao says hard-liners genuinely feared communism was falling.

BAO: "When some people started calling this "chaos", when some people started calling this an effort to overthow the socialist system, i felt the seriousness of those words."

Bao is asking the government to admit Tiananmen was wrong.

BAO: "I feel sad, ashamed and proud at the same time. feel proud of those students, the citizens of Beijing, the people."

For these few days in June, China is experiencing openness unseen since the revolution. A few are staking their liberty on the hope this Beijing spring will last after the president goes home.

Reported by Scott Pelley
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