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Chinese President Jiang Zemin Concedes His Government Had Shortcomings, But Stands by

November 2, 1997

Chinese President Jiang Zemin Concedes His Government Had Shortcomings, But Stands by Policies on Tiananmen Square and Tibet

While he spoke at Harvard University, about 2,000 people outside demonstrated for and against the Chinese government, with loudspeakers carrying their chants to Jiang’s ears.

Jiang responded to pre-approved questions, including one asking why he refused to open a dialogue with his people and why the Chinese government sent tanks against pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

``In China there are various channels for us to learn about people’s views,″ he said. ``I am in frequent contact with people’s deputies .... China is a large country with different levels of development in different parts of the country.″

He didn’t directly answer the reference to Tiananmen Square, but conceded: ``We have shortcomings and mistakes in our work.″

The remark caught the attention of his listeners, including the moderator, Prof. Ezra Vogel, director of Harvard’s Fairbanks Center for East Asian Research.

``There have been people in China who have said that before, but to my knowledge no leader has actually said that `We’ve made mistakes’,″ said Vogel.

``I think therefore that it probably is significant. Some people have been urging the Chinese leaders, when they talk about Tiananmen, to not just talk about the need to keep order, but the unfortunate fact that people died.

``They haven’t gone that far.″

The Communist Party has acknowledged mistakes in the past, such as the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which cost millions of lives and caused huge setbacks in the country’s economic development.

Leaders have not expressed regret for Tiananmen Square, saying it was necessary to maintain order.

Speaking on the sixth day of his eight-day trip to the United States, Jiang said his goals were to reform his country’s economy, develop a ``socialist democracy″ and govern his country ``according to law.″

He stressed the importance of improving relations with the United States, but hinted that it should stay out of China’s internal affairs.

``A developing and progressing China does not pose a threat to anyone,″ he said. ``China will never seek hegemony even if it is developed in the future. China is always a staunch force for world peace and regional stability.″

He also took on the subject of Tibet, a delicate issue between China and the United States, with a response to a pre-approved question on why Chinese leaders will not meet with the Dalai Lama.

``Our policy toward the 14th Dalai Lama is a clear-cut one. He must recognize publicly that Tibet is an inalienable part of China. To my regret, the 14th Dalai Lama has not stopped his separatist activities,″ he said.

Jiang also acknowledged the shouts of the demonstrators.

``Although I am already 71 years old, my ears work very well,″ Jiang said. ``I did hear sounds from the loudspeakers from outside. My approach is to speak even louder.″

At one corner of the Harvard campus, about 100 pro-China demonstrators sang the Chinese national anthem and shouted ``One China!″

Anti-Jiang demonstrators countered by chanting ``Free Tibet.″

One young woman waded into the pro-China crowd and told them to remember Tiananmen Square.

``I saw them kill people,″ she shouted. ``They killed boys, they killed young people, they killed demonstrators.″

Another woman yelled back: ``I live in Beijing; I never saw such a thing!″

After meeting Wednesday in Washington, Jiang and President Clinton came to some agreements on trade and security but clashed on human rights issues. Clinton declared the Chinese government to be ``on the wrong side of history″ by its treatment of the Tiananmen Square demonstrators.

Later Saturday, Jiang arrived in Los Angeles, where he was to hobnob with political and business leaders anxious to court the California’s sixth-largest trading partner. During his 36-hour visit, Jiang was to meet privately with Gov. Pete Wilson and Mayor Richard Riordan, talk to business leaders and the Asian-American community, and tour Hughes Electronics.

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