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A CNN interview with President Jiang Zemin

Following is a full transcript of the interview which Koppel conducted with Jiang this morning in Beijing:

May 9, 1997
Web posted at: 12:47 p.m. EDT (1647 GMT)

KOPPEL: Hello I'm Andrea Koppel in Beijing. Thank you for joining us. 1997 will surely be one of the most important years in modern Chinese history. In less than two months' time, the colony of Hong Kong will as they say here in the mainland, return to the motherland. When that happens, this will be an extremely exciting event here in China. The man responsible for this transfer of power is the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He is also the head of the military, and he is the President of the People's Republic of China, Jiang Zemin. President Jiang, thank you very much for joining us. Among the important events that we have to look forward to here in China is supposed to be your state visit to the United States, where you will meet with US President Bill Clinton. In light of the negative media coverage by the United States of China, are you optimistic that you are going to be able to accomplish things when you get to the United States?

JIANG: During my meeting with President Clinton in Manila in November we agreed that I was going to pay a state visit to the United States this coming fall, and President Clinton is going to visit China next year. My visit will give me the opportunity to get in touch with people from various quarters in the United States and exchange views with President Clinton and other American leaders on Sino-US relations and issues of mutual interest to both sides. China is the largest developing country in the world, while the United States is the largest developed country. To exchange visits and to have contact between leaders of the two countries will surely contribute to our joint efforts to establish a healthy and stable Sino-US relationship oriented towards the 21st Century.

KOPPEL: Mr. President, the United States is the only remaining superpower in the world. And China, while a very powerful country, and a very strong country, is not yet a superpower. Predictions are that come next century it will be. Do you think that it is inevitable, that these two strong countries will one day come into conflict with one another?

JIANG: I don't believe that China and the United States are going to have a conflict. China suffered grievously from foreign aggression and expansion in the past. The Chinese government and people love peace. And we are concentrating all our efforts on developing the economy and improving people's living standards. We have all along pursued an independent foreign policy of peace. Its objective is strive for an external environment of long term peace and security for our domestic economic development. China's military forces are entirely defensive in nature. This year our defense budget is less than 10 billion US dollars. I think that if you compare this with the United States and other big powers, China's military expenditure and armament level are very low. China has never had the intention for expansion. As for the so-called China threat theory, concocted by some people with a cold war mentality, I believe that people throughout the world, including people in the United States, will be able to make their own correct judgments.

KOPPEL: Mr. President, do you think that China has anything to learn from the United States, and on the other hand, does the United States have anything to learn from the People's Republic of China?

JIANG: I think there are many areas from which our two peoples can learn from each other. China is very proud of its five thousand year old cultural tradition. Before the Ming Dynasty, our technological development was not far behind the rest of the world. However, due to the feudal system and due to the aggressions and bullying by foreign powers in later years, our economic development and science and technology development lagged behind. On the other hand although the United States has a relatively short history, in the past 200 years, you have enjoyed a very rapid economic, scientific, and technological development. I think we can learn a lot from the American people in terms of science and technology, and economic management.

KOPPEL: Mr. President surely you've noticed in your many travels abroad, that in other powerful countries including the United States, the President, the foreign minister, or other leaders, are openly criticized by the press, sometimes on almost a daily basis. I have lived in China now for almost two years. And my question is, why have you never seen any criticism of you, of Zhu Rongji, of Li Peng, in the press? Why can't China be more tolerant of dissenting views?

JIANG: Although you have been in China for more than two years, to be frank, I think its still quite difficult for you to have a very deep understanding of China. It's impossible for all the countries in the world to have entirely the same social systems and democratic practices. As you can see from my recent remarks, I've been emphasizing all along the need to strengthen democracy and the legal system. But this process must be in line with the specific conditions of China. As a matter of fact, the principle of criticism and self- criticism is a principle that the Chinese communist party has all along adhered to ever since its founding. Before the founding of the People's Republic of China, this practice enabled us to overthrow the rule of the Guomindang. Since the founding of New China, we have adhered continuously to this principle through various channels. Not only do we have the deputies to the People's Congresses, there are also officials who are selected at various local levels. And also within the communist party, we have the democratic practice of criticism and self-criticism. Apart from that, we have special offices for receiving complaints. So we have various channels through which we can hear the views of the general public. But I must admit that this is not the same as the Western style democracy and press freedom that you have in mind. I do think that to require all countries to adopt the same model of democracy would itself be undemocratic.

KOPPEL: You mention democracy, Mr. President. I just came back from the Chinese countryside, actually from Fujian province. And I spent a week there with my camera crew. And we covered the village elections that have been happening here for now more than ten years, in which they elect the head of the village. And my question for you Mr. President is: When will a president in China be democratically elected as in one person one vote?

JIANG: I'm not completely sure whether the US election system is purely one man one vote. Perhaps you do have one man one vote. But according to the information I have, its not entirely that way. But I can only say that in China our election methods are a combination of direct and indirect election. As you mentioned, at the village level, now there's already direct election for the head of the villages. But we have a population of 1.2 billion people. Out of 1.2 billion, more than 180 million, or almost 200 million, are illiterate. So its very difficult for these illiterate people to elect directly an ideal president. So we must adopt our own way. For instance, I am a deputy to the National People's Congress. I was elected by the deputies to the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress. And where do the deputies to the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress come from? They are elected by those deputies to the district or county People's Congresses. And I as President of China was indirectly elected by the three thousand deputies to the National People's Congress. So I should say that my election is a combination of direct and indirect election. And I think this way of election will continue for quite a long time to come, because this suits China's national conditions.

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