Harvard officials are working to bring Chinese President Jiang Zemin to campus at the end of the month as part of the first official state visit by a Chinese head of state since before the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
Chen Mingming, an official in the American section of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, told The Crimson last night it is "very likely" Jiang will come to Harvard.
Then-President Li Xiannian was the last Chinese head of state to pay a state visit to the U.S., in 1985.
The University Marshal's Office, which is coordinating Harvard's efforts to bring Jiang to campus, is awaiting official confirmation from the Chinese government. An official announcement is expected soon.
University Marshal Richard M. Hunt said he will likely have a stronger confirmation one way or the other by the end of the week.
"We don't know what the chances are," he said. "It may well be, it may well not come about. At the moment, we're really just not making any comment."
A senior University official confirmed last night that "planning is going ahead on the assumption that he is coming," but added that "his visit still might not happen," in part because of communications barriers.
The official also said an advance team of U.S. and Chinese officials, including security experts, has visited the campus.
Ezra F. Vogel, Ford professor of the social sciences and director of the Fair-bank Center for East Asian Studies, said an announcement is likely by Thursday. "We hope it works out but we cannot confirm" the visit, he said last night.
Jiang is making stops in several U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and Williamsburg, Va. P.J. Crowley, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, confirmed that Boston is also on the itinerary.
While the National Security Council and the State Department will be kept informed of Jiang's plans, officials at both agencies said they do not yet know the specific details of each stop.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not return phone calls yesterday.
Beini Zhou '00, a student from China, said he would be proud if Jiang spoke at Harvard.
"I think [the trip to the United States] is a great opportunity to foster better relations between China and the U.S., and Harvard could serve as a bridge to build that relationship," he said.
A Controversial Visit?
Jiang's visit to the United States is likely to bring controversy wherever he goes, as both human-rights activists and organized labor have opposed increasing economic ties to China, which will be a major focus of the trip. Jiang's expected to meet with leaders of corporations from Boeing to IBM.
An official in the State Department in Washington confirmed that China's human-rights record will be on the docket when Jiang meets with President Clinton later this month.
"How the public will react [to the visit] I can't say, but as far as discussion goes, human rights is certainly on the table," the official said.
William Palmer, press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, said last night that other contentious issues--such as China's relationship with Taiwan--will likely be on the agenda as well.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Chinese officials were cautioned against making Boston one of the stops on the tour for fear that the high concentration of college students there might lead to political demonstrations.
Student activists in Harvard's Asian and Asian-American community said those fears may well be founded.
Taiwanese Cultural Society (TCS) Co-President Chienlan Hsu '99 said TCS has been in contact with other Taiwanese groups in Boston who plan to protest Jiang's appearance in Boston wherever it may be. Hsu said the TCS would likely participate in the effort to make Jiang address China's plans for Taiwan.
"There are a lot of Taiwanese groups around Boston who are planning a protest to encourage him to discuss these issues, and for him to recognize that [the Chinese government] cannot assume Taiwan will eventually return back to China," Hsu said. "They need be able to recognize Taiwan will be another country."
Abigail E. Abrash, program director for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in Washington, said she was very surprised that a prestigious university such as Harvard would bring Jiang to campus.
The center has been heavily involved in advocating human-rights issues in China since the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989.
Since the discussion of Most Favored Nation trade status for China was resurrected in 1993--and particularly since the link was broken between U.S. policies on human-rights and economic issues--the center has observed a backsliding in human rights, particularly in freedom of speech, Abrash said.
"U.S. policy is not seen as credible by the Chinese government in terms of our concerns regarding human rights and our willingness to use policy tools to stand by [political dissenters], like the administration pledged to do," Abrash said.
Hunt acknowledged that the potential for demonstrations has been considered by both Harvard and Chinese officials and said that one of the things left to be ironed out is "if anything should take place...what Harvard's responsibility would be."
Zhou said much of the uproar over Chinese human-rights violations has been overblown and that the country's record has improved significantly in the last few years.
"Some Americans have really biased views," Zhou said. "They don't know what's going on in China. A speach by Jiang Zemin [could] clarify their views."
Ian T. Simmons '98-'99, who has been active in a number of political causes at Harvard, said that Jiang's speech might have value if the University used the opportunity to critically discuss totalitarian governments.
"That's a discussion Harvard should be on the forefront of," Simmons said. "It would be great if Harvard thought we should discuss these issues, but they favor a polished appearance, especially in something that deals with fascism.