- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 1999

BEIJING In what appears to be a diplomatic gaffe of epic proportions, China said Thursday it would present pieces of paving stone from Tiananmen Square, site of the 1989 massacre, to 170 world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth and President Clinton.
The official Beijing Evening News, citing the Xinhua state news agency, said 4-inch-wide slabs from the square where hundreds of students died are to be presented to the heads of state of all countries with which China has diplomatic relations by the Chinese Association for the Study of National History.
Foreign ministries around the world immediately sought to confirm the reports. Some said that, if true, it would be a diplomatic nightmare as it would be next to impossible to accept such a gift.
British, French, German, U.S., South African and Indian officials all said that neither their capitals, nor their Beijing embassies, had been informed of their would-be year-2000 presents.
"This seems very odd to us," said one Western diplomat. "The Chinese must know that this is bound to cause embarrassment. If it's true, we will consult our allies and decide what to do. If the Chinese are trying to make some point with this, it is just going to blow up in their faces."
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said officials were unaware of the offer from the Chinese, but added: "We have criticized in very strong terms the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 and our position on that has not changed."
Tiananmen Square is best remembered in the West as the site where the tanks and machine guns of the People's Liberation Army crushed massive democracy protests on June 4, 1989. Within China, it is the official heart of the nation, where Mao Tse-tung proclaimed the founding of Communist China in 1949.
Ross Munro, a former correspondent for Time magazine in Beijing and author of the book "The Coming Conflict with China," said: "It is a stunningly arrogant gesture.
"Apart from being very insensitive to the sensibilities of Western countries, I think it could backfire on the Chinese because in some countries, domestic organizations will urge their governments to use these chunks to concentrate attention on a condemnation of the massacre."
The Beijing Evening News hailed the symbolic value of the paving slabs, which have been cut into pieces about 5 inches long, 4 inches wide and 1 inch thick.
The metric dimensions of the gifts 120mm by 96mm by 21mm signify "how in the 21st century, China, with its population of 1.2 billion and its land mass of 9.6 million square kilometers [3.8 million square miles] will spread its wings and soar aloft like a mighty eagle," the newspaper explained.
The slabs have been polished, but still bear their rough upper surface. The report did not make clear how or when the slabs would be delivered.
Slabs from Tiananmen Square became available earlier this year during major repair works, in which the entire surface was relaid in pale granite. Much of the paving from 1989 was removed shortly after the massacre, as China sought to obliterate the signs of tank treads, fire and other signs of conflict.

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