Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Wen defends 1989 crackdown

THE RIGHT CHOICE The Chinese premier said the economic advances made since the Tiananmen Massacre were proof the government had `stabilized the situation'

AP , BEIJING

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) has defended the government's deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tian-anmen Square, calling the student-led demonstrations a "very serious political disturbance" that had to be put down.

In a rare, nationally televised news conference, Wen cited China's economic advances since then as evidence the government made the right choice.

He did not directly answer a question from reporters about a military surgeon's petition calling on the government to admit it made mistakes in crushing the student-led protests 15 years ago. Hun-dreds, perhaps thousands, of people were killed.

"What hung in the balance was the future of our party and our country," Wen said. "We successfully stabilized the situation of reform and opening up and the path of building socialism with Chinese characteristics."

He noted the country had made "tremendous achievements" since the crackdown.

"At the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, China faced a very serious political disturbance," Wen said at the news conference on Sunday.

The surgeon, Dr. Jiang Yanyong (蔣彥永), has called on the government to reappraise the demonstrations as a "patriotic movement." In a letter sent to the annual session of the National People's Congress, he said ordinary Chinese will be "increasingly disappointed and angry" if the party does not revise its judgment on the incident.

Wen became premier last year in a generational leadership change that saw the retirement of many officials involved in the 1989 crackdown. His response on Sunday echoed the government's consistent reluctance to face the issue.

Instead, Wen used the news conference to hammer home the themes he outlined at the beginning of the 10-day legislative session -- such as expanding development to the impoverished countryside instead of just to China's booming cities.

"The Chinese economy is at a critical juncture," Wen said. "Deep-seated problems and imbalances in the economy over the years have not been fundamentally resolved."

He promised to prevent the country's experiment in capitalism from spinning out of control, and he vowed to rein in the endemic corruption. He cited shortages in energy and raw materials and a decrease in grain output, called rising prices a problem and said economic controls -- while difficult -- must be enforced in the name of stability.

"All these problems must be addressed appropriately. This presents an important challenge to the government," Wen said. "If we fail to manage the situation well, setbacks to the economy will be inevitable."

The premier said he had recently met with Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), who requested financial help from Bei-jing for the territory's economy.

"The relevant agencies of the central government are seriously studying the suggestions he brought to us," Wen said.

He encouraged Hong Kong residents to "unite and work together."

He also reiterated his government's stance that Taiwan is a part of China.

"Some people in the Taiwan authorities have been trying to push for a referendum on Taiwan independence based on the pretense of democracy," he said. "They have undermined this universally recognized principle of one China and threatened stability in the Taiwan Strait."

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