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Cops Serve as a Keystone To China's Shaky Future

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FOR one former Beijing policeman, memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that crescendoed to the brutal military crackdown are still sharp: standing, arms interlocked with other police, staring down student demonstrators, using weapons for the first time, and mounting machine guns on police station roofs out of fear of attack.

''If I were in the position of the government, I would have done the exact same thing,'' says the former officer about the Army's massacre of unarmed students and citizens on June 3 and 4.

Six years after being ordered to turn on their own citizens, China's security forces -- the People's Liberation Army, the paramilitary People's Armed Police (PAP), and the Public Security Bureau or police -- are as troubled and uneasy as the society they are pledged to preserve.

Still, in a moment of reflection, the former cop wonders about the fate of the student leaders and dissidents who fled China in the aftermath, especially Fang Lizhi, the astrophysicist who took refuge in the US Embassy and was later allowed to seek exile in the United States.

''He was so outspoken and brave to tell the truth,'' the 15-year police veteran, who resigned last year, says with admiration.

Pervasive corruption

The police in China today are in a quandary. Official corruption in China has become so pervasive, it has vitiated police relations with communities and darkened the daily lives of many Chinese. Increasingly, press reports claim, the Army is thrust into situations at odds with the police and is often needed to intervene in disputes between civilians and local police.

As the ruling Communists wrestle over succession to ailing leader Deng Xiaoping, the military, paramilitary, and secret police are poised as key powerbrokers in the struggle and divided by loyalties to rival politicians. At the same time, crime is overwhelming cities and rural areas and demoralizing and sweeping police into gambling, prostitution, and drugs.

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