James R. Lilley: CIA operative and US ambassador

James R. Lilley, who died on 19 November aged 81, was a long-standing CIA operative and later the United States ambassador to China during the time of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Lilley, who was born in China to an oilman father and schoolteacher mother, had a close relationship with the former US President George H.W. Bush which dated back to the early 1970s, when Lilley headed the CIA's operations in Beijing and Bush was the chief of the US mission there. Later, during the 1989 Tiananmen protests, Lilley, a stern critic of the crackdown, often sent his reports about the unfolding events directly to Bush, who by then was president.

In a statement, Bush referred to Lilley as "a most knowledgeable and effective ambassador who served with great honor and distinction," adding that he had spoken to Lilley a few days before his death. The Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is traveling in Asia, called him "one of our nation's finest diplomats." She said Lilley "inspired generations of China hands."

Lilley who had been ambassador to South Korea, was ambassador to China from 1989-91, "one of the most difficult periods in our bilateral relations," Clinton said.