President of China & General-Secretary of the CCP


This interview was carried out in February 1997. What is interesting is to revisit in 2002 the vision Jiang Zemin had of his role and the policies he wanted to implement . Jiang Zemin will retire next year, and what can be said is that he accomplished his goals and that, when he will leave the scene, China will be the third trading house of the world, behind Europe and the United States and a world power nation ready to challenge and even confront the American vision of the world if it goes against its national interest. Jiang Zemin was considered a secondary politician for a long while. Many wondered how long he would stay in the job after Deng Xiao-ping's death. But he proved himself to be a master of politics at a challenging time for China, and he never faltered in his stewardship of the country. Economic reforms that others would have rather left on the back-burner where introduced and carried out, while the political system was revamped and the party rejuvenated. Some will argue that Jiang Zemin did not bring democracy to his country, but the Chinese would argue that they have never felt so free. To go one political step further is the challenge he will leave to his successor.

Serge Berthier - Mr President, you are the head of state of one of the last communist countries of this planet - a country that is subject to constant criticism from Westerners. They say that the Chinese people have no say in the running of their country and that democracy, in China, does not exist. Actually, one has the feeling that the more China opens its economy, the less it opens its political system. How do you view China's form of government today?

Jiang Zemin - The People's Republic of China is a socialist state.

S.B. - What does that really mean?

J.Z. - I could answer you by quoting the Chinese Constitution (1). It stipulates that all state power belongs to the people. But what really matters, is having a clear view of the organs through which the people are able to exercise their power. And if they do indeed exercise such power. In our country, the people's congresses (2) are the organs through which such power is exercised. They are at the foundation of our political system.

S.B. - If that is the case, then what part does the Communist Party play in the political system?

J.Z. - It amalgamates the various trends of our political system. It provides the leadership. You see, China is not a "one" party state (3). We do have more than one political organisation. Regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of minority nationalities live in concentrated communities. Therefore, there is an unavoidable need to practice a system of political consultation between various parties, different ethnic groups, etc.… Well, in a way, that is exactly the part that the communist party plays.

S.B. - Don't you think that China could be closer to the political system that is now prevalent in the Western world?

J.Z. - The basic political structure of a country has to be consistent with its national conditions. What I mean by " national conditions" are, as a whole, such things as the country's politics, economy, culture, historical traditions and natural conditions. Obviously, China is very specific. Most of the times, its sheer size is the first thing that is mentioned, but there are many other areas where China has different conditions from any other country. We believe that our political system is not only consistent with our national conditions but that it has ensured the fundamental political rights of our people, maintained our national unity, ethnic harmony and social stability. Without social stability, nothing can be achieved.

S.B. - History taught us that the Western world took a different path to achieve the same goals. Has China made the best choice?

J.Z. - Indeed the Western countries have taken a different path. However, even among themselves, political structures differ from one another with some practicing presidential republics while others, parliamentary republics. You have to admit that political structures are not all the same. There is not one "correct" political structure and another one that is not. Can we judge the political system of one country by that of another? I think not. Without taking into account the national conditions of the said country, its political system does not make sense. And national conditions are unique. They apply only to a given country, not to another.

S.B. - Nevertheless, national conditions are not immutable. They are not fixed once and for all. The impact of the opening up of the Chinese economy in 1979 under the guidance of Deng-Xiaoping is there for all to see, that national conditions are ever changing. Therefore, if national conditions are changing, don't political systems have to change?

J.Z. - They do change. Our political system is gradually evolving. Political reforms are being carried out all the time at all levels (4). All of them aim at strengthening our socialist democracy and our legal system.

S.B. - To the opening up of the economy, are you going to add at some stage the opening up of the political system?

J.Z. - Political reform is a process. There is nothing that prevents us from assimilating the achievements of other countries if this can be done. But this can only be done if they strengthen the fine traditions of our own which have stood the time.

S.B. - What you claim exists as regards the internal political structure of China, is a "right to be different". How do you apply this principle in the international arena?

J.Z. - We share with the other countries the same worries. Peace and development are the two main themes of the world today. We are no different. Like others, we want to maintain global peace, enhance friendship and co-operation. To promote common development is the common desire of all people. Poverty, unemployment, refugee flows, crime, population explosion, environmental degradation, drug abuse and terrorism: such serious problems are nowadays global problems. Though vastly different in their national conditions, China and the Western countries share a broad common interest in such topics and broadly the same views on major international issues. This community of ideas explains the constant improvement and expansion of China's relations with the Western world.

S.B. - Yet, this "constant improvement" is not without bumps. Beyond the proclaimed will to achieve a sound and stable relationship between China and Western countries, to what factors do you attribute the ups and downs that have patterned the relations between China and the United States, France, or Japan, just to name a few countries embroiled from time to time in arguments with China?

J.Z. - To build a stable world, to put our relations with Western countries on a sound footing is our constant aim in order to achieve the common desire of all people: peace and prosperity. No one should doubt the commitment of China to work towards such a lofty objective. But it is paramount that our interlocutors share it and that their commitment be the same. Dialogue and co-operation can only blossom on an even level field, on the basis of mutual respect. A political leader should stand on higher ground and take the long view. The longest view possible when he is dealing with international issues. Leaders from China as well as leaders of the Western countries should conduct their relations with a 21st century-oriented approach. Of course there are bound to be immediate interests conflicting with long-term interests. The only way to overcome the tensions born out of such contradictions is, as we said earlier, to stand on higher ground!

S.B. - In other words, you consider that the disagreements which occur from time to time with the Western countries are, most of the time, the product of a lack of a long-term vision towards China and her peculiar and difficult natural conditions. What, then, should be done, to alleviate this misunderstanding?

J.Z. - I think that everyone should adhere to three fundamental rules. The first one is simply to admit, first and foremost, that divergence does exist. Indeed, if you plainly admit that they do exist, then you can identify them, you can rationalize them and explain what they are.

S.B. - Then what?

J.Z. - The richness of the world is a product of its diversity. It is this diversity that is at the origin of wealth. It is the roots of prosperity. It is also this diversity that made it possible and necessary for countries as well as for the people to interact and co-operate. But to co-operate, to work together does not mean to standardize. It does not mean the suppression of differences. Look at Europe. Even though the countries are trying to cooperate closely, each country remains quite vocal about keeping its ethnic and cultural distinctions.

S.B. - But people have now the conviction that one can organize everything according to a new concept, the so-called globalization of the planet which seems to run contrary to the concept of diversity. How can we reconcile the two?

J.Z. - As regards international issues, the only right approach to the conduct of state-to-state relations is to adhere to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (5). We have to face up to the fact that there are differences in ideology, social systems and levels of economic and cultural development all over the world. We have to admit that we cannot solve the economic problems everywhere at the same time, at the same speed. We have to recognize the diversity of the cultural environment.

S.B. - Is this enough?

J.Z. - No. Just to admit that diversity is surrounding us is useless if we do not make a break from the Cold War mentality.

S.B. - What mentality?

J.Z. - The practice of the strong lording it over the weak. Such thinking has to stop.

S.B. - What else, beside to recognize diversity as a fact, is needed to have meaningful and peaceful dialogue with China on international issues?

J.Z. - You have to know China. To understand what China is. People tend to forget easily that China is the largest developing country in the world. Or rather they tend to forget what it really entails to be so large, so numerous. China is not like any other country. The scale is different. China is China.

S.B. - What makes China so vastly different that you consider the country has a special uniqueness? Is it the sheer diversity of the country, the demographic power, the economic potential…?

J.Z. - Not really. They are factors but let's stand on the higher ground. If China, as home to one-fifth of the world's population, can maintain political stability and economic prosperity, it is in itself a great contribution to world peace, stability and prosperity. Conversely, if China is unstable and stagnant, or if it should become bogged down in prolonged poverty and backwardness, which was the case at the turn of this century, this will be highly detrimental to world stability and to global prosperity. Therefore the development of China has a direct bearing on the peace and prosperity of the world, and the progress of China should be a matter of satisfaction for all.

S.B. - Isn't it the case? It seems to me that in all quarters, people are quite amazed and pleased to see the pace of development in China.

J.Z. - Only to a point. Now some Westerners deliberately exaggerate China's economic strength and spread the "China threat" fallacy. Where progress should be seen, some see the emergence of a "new super-power". This is wrong, and meaningless.

S.B. - Isn't it due to the size of China? The stronger the economy, the bigger China appears. Dominant countries were in the past the largest ones, so this reaction is not illogical.

J.Z. - China is not an industrialized country and is not going to be for a long time to come. It is a developing country. There is still a very long way to go to improve the standard of living of the Chinese population. To further the economic reforms, to open up the country and speed up its modernization, China needs a stable and peaceful international environment. If and when, in the long-term, China becomes richer and stronger, it does not mean that it will pose a threat to other countries. Once again, the Western countries have to make allowances for the fact that it is an enormous country. They should get rid of their a priori.

S.B. - You mention earlier three fundamental rules to deal with China if we want to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. The first one is the rule of diversity, the second one to make allowances for China's size. Can you tell us, Mr President, what is the third one?

J.Z. - The third rule deals with the principles that must prevail to deal with economic and trade relations. Even though the economic weight of China has increased and is no longer negligible on the world scene, China is, I repeat myself, at the primary stage of its development. It is a developing nation if you just work out the ratio of its economic output per capita. Therefore, we should stop mixing up everything which only adds to every one’s confusion.

S.B. - I assume that you are talking about the surplus of the trade balance of China …

J.Z. - Yes. We all admit that the economic development of China has not only delivered a better life to its own people, but also provided a fresh driving force to world economic growth. Our market has enormous potential and offers great business opportunities for the developed countries' businessmen. The co-operation between China and the Western countries has been mutually beneficial: while the Western countries boast advanced technology and abundant capital, China is an emerging market with abundant resources and numerous potential consumers…

S.B. - No one disputes that fact…

J.Z. - The fact that China and the rest of the world are highly complementary economically is not yet very well understood or, at best, is misrepresented, once again because we are very large (6). Look at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). We have said, many times, that the WTO without China cannot pretend to be a world organisation. It is obvious. China being on the path of development, but being not a developed country, makes it inappropriate to ask it to meet excessive demand. And it would be inappropriate for us to satisfy such demand.

S.B. - That the WTO, without China, is not really an effective world body organisation is, first of all, the problem of that organisation. What is the direct impact on China?

J.Z. - Some Western countries have adopted and maintained discriminatory trade policies against China (7). Such policies are harming others. And in the end, such ad-hoc measures will undermine the own interests of the perpetrators. As I said, why don't leaders stand on higher ground, take the long view, to avoid being caught by short-term conflicting interests?

S.B. - Western analysts put Taiwan as the most critical issue of the 21st century. How do you think your relations with Taiwan will evolve?

J.Z. - What is most important is adherence to the "one China" principle internationally. That is, there is only one China in the world, the Government of the People's Republic of China. It is the sole legal government representing the whole of China. We have said it, and say it again. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. This fact has been widely recognized by the international community and by the United Nations.

S.B. - Yes, but beyond the rhetoric, it is a fact that Taiwan is running its own affairs the way it sees fit. How can the political principles be reconciled with the reality?

J.Z. - The Taiwan question is indeed an important question of principle bearing on China's sovereignty, territorial integrity and the great cause of national reunification. To put an end to the separation between the two sides of the Straits is the common aspiration of all Chinese, whether overseas Chinese or mainland Chinese. You have here a case where the fundamental interests of a nation lie. On such question involving state sovereignty, a government has no room for any compromise. Indeed, Taiwan is part of China.

S.B. - What can be done to put an end to the present confusion and get Taiwan back into the fold of the motherland?

J.Z. - We can take inspiration from the method applied successfully to Hong Kong, under the principle of "one China, two systems".

S.B. - However, in the case of Hong Kong, it is a foreign country who took a part of China by force and who later on relinquished it. In Taiwan, there is a local Chinese government which contains a lot of members who are refugees who fled the motherland.

J.Z. - Our basic policy on resolving the Taiwan question has always been "peaceful reunification and one country, two systems". We stand for a settlement of political differences between the two sides and the realization of the reunification of Taiwan and the mainland through political negotiations under the "one China" principle. On 30 January 1995, I made an eight-point proposal for the peaceful reunification of the motherland. I proposed, among other things, that as the first step, the two sides could conduct negotiations on "officially ending the state of hostility between the two sides of the Straits under the principle that there is only one China". These propositions of ours are both reasonable and workable (8).

S.B. - How do you explain then, on the one hand, the pace of economic cooperation across the Straits and on the other the deadlock on the political front?

J.Z. - Clearly, it is due to the stubbornness of the Taiwan authorities. Our propositions demonstrate our determination to go forward and our sincerity for resolving the Taiwan question. Not only have the Taiwan authorities continued to keep erecting obstacles to the development of the cross-Straits relations, but they have also worked under various names to split the motherland. Whether or not cross-Straits relations can improve and move forward steadily hinges on whether or not the Taiwan authorities will stick to the "one China" principle, truly return to the one China position and stop their divisive activities creating "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan" on the international scene.

S.B. - Another fire brand is the Tibetan problem. Why do you think the Western media have been paying so much attention to Tibet over the past thirty years or so?

J.Z. - China counts 56 ethnic minorities. Tibetans are one of them (9). Since ancient times, though there have been many changes of central authority, the Tibetan region has always been under the effective jurisdiction of China's successive central governments. Therefore Tibet is a part of China's territory. Just as in other ethnic minority regions in China, Tibet follows a system of regional autonomy. Thanks to the support and assistance of the Central government and people across the country, Tibet has, over decades, achieved economic growth, social progress and ethnic harmony. People live there in peace and contentment, enjoying steadily rising living standards although the region is harsh. And in particular, they are guaranteed freedom of religion.

S.B. - But then, Tibet is still making headlines and people are concerned about the survival of the cultural heritage of Tibet. Why would such rumours persist if they are baseless?

J.Z. - It is very simple. In 1959, the Dalai Lama and some elements of the then Tibetan local government staged an armed rebellion. Their objective was to preserve the theocratic feudal serfdom that had existed in Tibet for ages. To achieve such a goal, they had no choice but to separate Tibet from the rest of China. The rebellion failed. The Dalai Lama fled the country. Ever since, he has clung to his position with the support and connivance of certain foreign forces.

S.B. - But quite recently, I read that the Dalai Lama had changed his position, saying that he no longer supports the independence of Tibet but is prepared to recognize China's sovereignty over the region…

J.Z. - Actually, he has not stopped his separatist activities. Not only he has sent agents into China's Tibetan-inhabited areas to plot and instigate riots, he is constantly traveling the world to internationalize the question of Tibet. You know as well as I do that certain foreign forces have bestowed various laurels upon him while indulging in fabricating sensational lies about Tibet. The truth is different. We welcome visits to Tibet by foreigners where they will be able to see the real situation there for themselves. Tibet is nothing like the stories they have been told. Tibetans are just one of our many ethnic minorities. They all benefit from the economic progress we have made since the opening up of China.


1.- The constitution of China was changed in a significant way in 1992.

The preamble of the constitution now reads; "Our country is in the primary stage of socialism. The basic task of the nation is to concentrate its effort on socialist modernization in accordance with the theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics". Before it simply read "The basic task of the nation in the years to come is to concentrate its efforts on socialist modernization".

2.- China has two national chambers: the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Each has more than 2900 deputies or representatives. Only the National People's Congress can enact laws.

According to the Constitution, the country is divided into provinces (22 with Taiwan), autonomous regions (5) and municipalities (4) directly under the Central Government. They all have their own local Congress.

Then provinces and autonomous regions are divided into autonomous prefectures (165), counties (2046) and municipal districts (620). All have their own local Congress elected for three years. Their deputies then elect the deputies of the province or the autonomous regions for 5 years. These deputies elect for 5 years the deputies of the NPC and CPPCC in proportion to their population. Some of the provincial chambers can enact laws in specific fields (mainly economic and municipal matters).

Shadowing the political structure as a second layer of people's power, is the Communist Party with local, provincial and national structures. At the top is its Central Committee (193 members and 151 alternate members) which is elected for five years.

Out of the Central Committee is elected a Politburo (22 members and 2 alternate). This Politburo elects a standing committee of 7 members. Since the 15th Congress of the party held in September 1997, they are:

- Jiang Zemin, 71 Party General Secretary and President of the country

- Li Peng, 69, Premier and State Councillor

- Zhu Rongji, 69, Vice-Premier and State Councillor

- Li Ruihan, 65, Chairman of the CPPCC

- Hu Jintao, 55, in charge of Party's Central Secretariat

- Wei Jianxing, 66, Chairman of the Party Central Disciplinary Inspection Committee

- Li Lanqing, 65, Vice-premier and State Councillor.

The other politburo members are: Ding Guangen, 68, Minister of Propaganda, Tian Jyiun, 68, Vice-Chairman of the NPC, Li Changchun, 53, Henan Provincial Party Secretary, Li Tieying, 61, Minister of the SCRES and State Councillor, Wu Nagguo, 56, Vice-Premier, Wu Shanzheng, 59, Shandong Provincial Party Secretary, Chi Haotian, 68, Minister of National Defense and State Councillor, Zhang Wannian, 69, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Luo Guan, 62, Secretary-General of the State Council, Jiang Chunyun, 67, Vice Premier in charge of Agriculture, Jia Qinglin, 57, Beijing Party Secretary, Qian Qichen, 69, Vice Premier in charge of Foreign Affairs and State Councillor, Huang Ju, 59, Shanghai Party Secretary, Wen Jiabao, 55, member of Secretariat of the Central Committee, Xie Fei, 67, Guangdong Provincial Party Secretary. The two alternate members are: Zeng Qinghong, 58, Director of the General Office of the Central Committee and Mrs Wu Yi, 59, Minister of Trade and Foreign Economic Relations.

3.- The following was added to the preamble of the constitution in 1992: "The system of multi-party co-operation and political consultation led by the Communist Party of China will exist and develop for a long time to come." There are officially eight democratic parties in addition to the CPC.

4.- The latest meaningful political reform at grass-root level has been the introduction of direct elections at the level of the village committees. Elections to village committees were begun in 1988 but slowed down after the Tiananmen events.

A village committee comprises three to seven members. Each member is elected to a three year-term. In the past, such committees were under the control of one of the family clans of the village. In summer 1996, the Ministry of Civil Affairs pushed for the polls to be held by secret ballot. The polls are not held simultaneously across the country but staggered over three years and throughout the year. The first polls to be held under a new format took place in march 1997 in the Fujian and Hebei provinces. The Foundation Carter was invited to send 7 observers to make recommendations. China has more than 1 million village committees. Such committees have control over village affairs and make the connection with the local administrative authorities.

The government plans now to extend direct elections from village committees to townships committees. A township is an entity that has up to 100,000 people. The move, expected next year, would mark the first time that the Communist Party government has allowed direct election of local leaders in urban areas.

5.- The five principles of Peaceful Coexistence were first mentioned in the preamble of a trade agreement about Tibet signed between China and India in 1954. Such principles were formally adopted by the participants of the first Afro-Asian Conference held in April 1955 in Bandung (Indonesia). They are:

- mutual respect and respect of the territorial integrity

- mutual non-aggression

- mutual non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations

- equality and mutual benefit

- peaceful coexistence

6.- "A strong China will inevitably present major challenges to the United States and the rest of the international system", wrote Kenneth Lieberthal in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec 1995).

7.- The trade balance of China is positive but there is a lot of argument as to the exact amount of the surplus. The United States publish trade figures which seems to indicate that their commerce has a deficit of about US$30 billion with China. The Customs of China put the surplus at about US$10 billion (see interview with Vice-Minister Wu Jie in this issue).

8.- Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, the mainland has issued four important sets of documents and proposals on how to resolve the Taiwan reunification issue.

The first was "A Statement to Compatriots of Taiwan by the Standing Committee of the National People Congress on New Year's Day 1979," in which the mainland declared it respected the existing conditions in Taiwan and the views of all circles of people of Taiwan. It promised to adopt reasonable policies and measures that would not harm the interests of the Taiwan people.

The other documents are an enunciation of the mainland's policy by Marshal Ye Jianying, Chairman of the National People's Congress, to the China News Agency on the eve of National Day, 1981 (known as Ye's Nine Proposals); the concept of "one country, two systems" enunciated by the paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, during a meeting with Professor Yang Lih-yu of Taiwan on June 26, 1993 (known as the Deng's Six Points); and the Spring Festival 1g95 statement by President Jiang Zemin (known as Jiang's Eight Proposals).

The following are details of the three documents:

Ye's Nine Proposals:

1. The communists and the Kuomintang begin talks on an equal footing and they set about co-operation for the first time.

2. The two sides provide facilities to enable direct mail, direct trade and direct transport, as well as facilities for exchange visits and academic, cultural and sport exchanges.

3. Taiwan is to be made a Special Administrative Region of China, with a degree of autonomy and with the right to have its own military.

4. Taiwan's social and economic systems will remain unchanged, so will its lifestyle and its economic and cultural relations with other countries.

5. Members of the Taiwan authorities and various communities may take up positions in the central government.

6. The central government will offer subsidies should Taiwan encounter difficulties.

7. Freedom of movement of people from Taiwan who choose to settle on the mainland will be guaranteed.

8. Taiwanese businessmen are welcome to invest in the mainland.

9. Taiwanese people are welcome to forward proposals and discuss national affairs jointly with the mainland.

Deng's Six Points:

1. Peaceful reunification of the motherland.

2. We do not agree to "total autonomy" for Taiwan which is tantamount to having "two Chinas". Taiwan will be a Special Administrative Region with certain special powers which other provinces, regions, municipalities do not enjoy, but which should not be detrimental to the interests of the nation.

3. The Taiwan SAR will enjoy judicial independence and will have its own army provided it does not pose a threat to the mainland

4. Taiwan's party, administrative and military system will be managed by Taiwan itself. The mainland will not station troops on Taiwan nor will it send administrators.

5. Peaceful reunification does not mean the mainland "eating up" Taiwan, nor Taiwan "eating up" the mainland. The suggestion of reunification under the "Three Principles of the People" is not practical.

6. The two parties hold negotiations on an equal footing and without foreign interference.

Jiang's Eight Proposals:

1. Adhering to the principle of one China is the basis and premise for peaceful reunification.

2. We do not challenge the development of non-governmental economic and cultural ties by Taiwan with other countries. However we oppose Taiwan's activities in "expanding its living space internationally".

3. Hold negotiations with Taiwan authorities on peaceful reunification. As a first step, negotiations should be held and an agreement reached on officially ending the state of hostility between the two sides.

4. Strive for the peaceful reunification of the motherland since Chinese should not fight Chinese. The mainland's retaining the option of the use of force is not directed at Taiwanese compatriots, but against any foreign schemes to interfere with reunification and plots to bring about the "independence of Taiwan".

5. Great efforts should be made to expand economic exchanges and co-operation between the two sides so as to achieve prosperity for the benefit of the entire nation.

6. The splendid culture of 5,000 years created by the children of all ethnic groups of China has become a tie keeping the entire Chinese people in their heart close to one another and constitutes an important basis for peaceful reunification.

7. Full respect for the lifestyle of the 21 million compatriots in Taiwan, their wish to be masters of their own house and protection of all legitimate rights and interests.

8. Leaders of the Taiwan authorities are welcome to pay visits in appropriate capacities. We are ready to accept invitations to visit Taiwan. The affairs of Chinese people should be handled by the Chinese people, something that does not take an international forum to accomplish.

9.- Tibet is only the seventh most numerous ethnic minority, with about 3,9 million ethnic Tibetans. With a population of about 14 million, the Zuang are the most populous of China's ethnic minority. Most of them live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. They have their own spoken and written language.

The Huis, with a population of more than 7 million are the second largest minority. They practice the Muslim religion as the Uygurs, about 6 million people, do. The Hezhens are the smallest in number of China's many ethnic minorities (about 1,400 people).

published in Autumn 1997