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Chinese premier defends 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre { March 14 2004 }

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Published Sunday, March 14, 2004
Chinese Premier Defends 1989 Crackdown

Associated Press Writer

BEIJING China's premier on Sunday defended the government's deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen 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 Jiabao cited China's economic advances since then as evidence the government made the right choice.

He did not directly answer a question from The Associated Press about a military surgeon's petition calling on the government to admit it made mistakes in crushing the student-led protests 15 years ago. Hundreds, 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 China's "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.

The military surgeon, Dr. Jiang Yanyong, 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 personally involved in the 1989 crackdown. His response Sunday echoed the Chinese government's consistent reluctance to face the issue head-on.

Instead, Wen used the news conference to hammer home 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 corruption endemic in China today.

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."

Wen also reiterated his government's stance that self-ruling Taiwan is a part of China - just days before Taiwan's citizens elect a president and vote on a referendum gauging public opinion on Chinese missiles pointed at the island. Beijing has threatened to take Taiwan by force if the island refuses to unify.

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

China's rise should not be seen as a threat, and the Beijing leadership has no desire to dominate the region at the expense of smaller nations, Wen said.

"China has 5,000 years of history. We had a glorious past, but we also suffered humiliation and subjugation," Wen said. "The rise of China and its rejuvenation are the dreams of many Chinese people of many generations."

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