Chinese premier attacks West over dissidents

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The Independent Online
ZHU RONGJI, the Chinese Prime Minister, who Western politicians like to do business with, lashed out yesterday at the West's vocal backing for exiled dissidents.

"Don't support those so-called pro-democracy activists", he said. "If these people were to return to China, then there would be no legal system here, no democracy, no rule of law." Mr Zhu, who has a reputation for candour rare among senior Chinese leaders, was speaking at a televised press conference after the closing session of China's annual parliament. The assembly overwhelmingly voted through constitutional changes sanctioning a bigger role for private business and "the rule of law".

Afterwards, Mr Zhu promised "no restrictions" on what questions could be asked, though his answers would have disappointed anyone - including exiled dissidents such as Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan - looking for a man willing to break ranks with the party line.

Mr Zhu was clearly irritated by lectures on human rights from visiting Western statesmen. "It seems that without mentioning the question of human rights they would find it difficult to justify themselves when going back," he said. Mr Zhu described how Western politicians often produced lists of names "and say that these are the people who have been arrested, the so-called pro-democracy activists ... And then I would say, in China we have 1.25 billion people, and every day criminal offences are committed, so every day we are arresting some criminals."

His account of an exchange with the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, this month gave some idea of how such encounters failed to lead to a meeting of minds. "I said to her: `I started my struggle for the protection and pursuance of human rights much earlier than you did'. And she asked: `Really?"' Mr Zhu, 80, told the 61-year-old Mrs Albright that when he had been fighting for "democracy, freedom and human rights" against China's former ruling Nationalists, she had still been in middle school.

After a year in his job, Mr Zhu is still a refreshing change from his dour predecessor, Li Peng. He showed off his reading of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, joked about being hugged tight by the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, and airily dismissed US reports that 600 Chinese missiles were targeted at Taiwan. "I don't know that, how could you know it?" he asked rhetorically, and somewhat disingenuously.

Much of Mr Zhu's efforts were devoted to addressing his visit to Washington next month. Allegations that China stole nuclear secrets were part of an "anti-China wave in the US which has caused concern on our side", he said. Mr Zhu predicted a difficult trip. "I don't think my visit to the US will bring me into a minefield, but I do expect to encounter some hostile or unfriendly atmosphere there," he said, "[But] I must go there to let you [Americans] vent your anger and your complaints." He said the two countries should restore the momentum for building a strategic partnership.

He dismissed allegations about nuclear espionage by China during the Eighties, saying no evidence had been produced and that China had no need to steal technology. He said those making the accusations "underestimated China's capability to develop andresearch military technologies. Chinese people are intelligent and diligent people ... China is fully capable of developing any military technology, it is only a matter of time."