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Ambassador To China Calls Protesters ‘Cowards’

December 2, 1990

SEATTLE (AP) _ U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley called demonstrators against Chinese human-rights abuses ″cowards″ and suggested that one man, a Tibetan, ″go back to China and serve China.″

But in a speech a few minutes later, Lilley said the United States wanted to see ″concrete improvement on China’s human rights record,″ and referred to the lifting of martial law in Tibet as ″window dressing.″

U.S. Rep. John Miller, R-Wash., on Sunday said Lilley should apologize for his remarks made Saturday night to protesters outside the closing ceremony of a four-day trade exposition and symposium on U.S.-China relations.

Lilley got into the argument with a handful of demonstrators outside Union Station before going inside to make his speech.

Most of those outside the former train station didn’t notice the exchange, but it was taped by Seattle television station KIRO.

Lilley and Chinese Ambassador Zhu Quizhen arrived in cars at the side of the station. About 50 demonstrators were at the front of the building, waving signs and chantings slogans condemning the Chinese government’s slaying of hundreds of demonstrators in Beijing in June 1989 and its 40-year occupation of Tibet.

Jim Berman, a Seattle man whose wife is Tibetan, said he and a half-dozen others left the main group on the chance the ambassadors might use a side entrance.

They chanted ″China - human rights 3/8″, ″Tibet for Tibetans 3/8″, and ″Remember Tiananmen Square 3/8″ he said.

Zhu ignored the demonstrators and went inside, Berman said.

But Berman said, and the KIRO videotape corroborated, that Lilley suddenly shouted, ″Were you at Tiananmen Square? I was there.″

″So what?″ Berman said he replied. ″I know it wasn’t the greatest retort,″ Berman said afterward, ″but I certainly didn’t expect his outburst.″

Lilley then shouted to a Tibetan man, ″What are you doing about it? I’m doing something about it. You should go back to China and serve China.″

″You’re cowards,″ Lilley told the demonstrators before entering the building.

Dan Hodel, spokesman for the Tibetan Rights Campaign, said he was left ″speechless and flabbergasted″ by the incident.

China invaded Tibet in 1950, crushed an uprising in 1959 and introduced repressive measures, including suppressing Tibetan Buddhism.

At a news conference after his speech, Lilley was asked about the exchange. ″I looked at one man from China and thought that the best thing he could do to help his country is to go back to China and work for it,″ he said.

Asked what message he intended to give the demonstrators, Lilley replied, ″Nothing much, I guess.″

The 63-year-old Lilley, who was born in China, was appointed to the ambassadorship by President Bush. He is a former CIA intelligence officer and former ambassador to South Korea, and also has served U.S. missions in the Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Hong Kong.

In a news release Sunday, Miller said he was appalled by Lilley’s remarks. Miller said protesters who returned to China could face arrest, trial and execution for speaking out in favor of democracy.

″This treatment by a U.S. ambassador of those seeking freedom and democracy is beyond comprehension,″ Miller said.

In his speech, Lilley said important differences remain between the United States and China, especially on the Persian Gulf situation and on human rights.

Lilley said China had made some progress toward improving human rights, such as lifting martial law in Tibet, which he then referred to as ″window dressing.″ He also noted that some of the 800 people arrested after last year’s anti-democracy crackdown have been released, and that China has allowed its best-known dissident, astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, to leave the country.

More than 350 Chinese delegates attended the symposium, the largest trade delegation ever to the United States. But organizers were disappointed when only about 60 Americans showed up to opening sessions.

Update hourly