Jiang admits mistakes over Tiananmen

President Jiang Zemin of China was set to leave US shores last night after a visit that took him from coast to coast and back again, but left Americans as sceptical as ever about China's intentions. But towards the end of his visit there were signs he was getting their message, as Mary Dejevsky reports.

At Harvard University on Saturday the penny finally seemed to drop. After a cliche-ridden chronicle of China's achievements, from the invention of gunpowder to the victory of Mao's revolution, Mr Jiang said he would take questions.

The professors, sensitive to charges that they had packed the audience with China-sympathisers, did their best. With shouts of protesters from outside the hall audible, they picked two questions from the hundred they said they had received. The first asked about the army's assault on Tiananmen Square eight years ago, the second about Tibet, the third - taken, apparently at Mr Jiang's impromptu instigation, from the floor - about his understanding of American-style democracy.

But it was the first that signalled the change. True, the Chinese leader spent most of his answer defending his own efforts - as mayor of Shanghai and national leader - to find out about people's concerns and he did not mention Tiananmen Square. But then he said: "It goes without saying ... we may have shortcomings and even make some mistakes ... However, we have been working on a constant basis to further improve our work."

There, for the first time, in answer to a question about Tiananmen, was an admission of error. The connection was not direct but it was there to be made - perhaps the first time the word "mistake" had crossed a Chinese leader's lips in that context.

It was said US officials had tried time and again to convince Mr Jiang to express at least regret for the Tiananmen events. At his press conference with President Bill Clinton on Wednesday there had been only justification. The "correct conclusions" had been drawn: the government had to act to preserve stability and unity in a country of 1.2 billion people.

This led him into disagreement with Mr Clinton, who condemned China as being "on the wrong side of history" on political dissent. Next day Mr Jiang seemed to soften a little, when he talked to Asia specialists about the need to improve democracy and the rule of law in China.

Mr Jiang's tour was seen by many China-watchers as comparable with Deng Xiaoping's epic visit in 1979, when his smiles and spontaneity won many hearts. Mr Jiang left an impression of efficiency, some potentially valuable trade deals, but little warmth.

But there is just a chance, that, with his impressions of US hi-tech and the New York Stock Exchange, Mr Jiang may also have taken back some of his hosts' questions about China. If so, Americans may in time come to regard his trip more charitably as time well spent.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference