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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China's premier vows to save economy, defend Tibet

March 15, 2009

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN ? March 12, 2009

BEIJING (AP) ? China's premier defended his government's policies in
Tibet and its handling of the economic crisis Friday, promising more
stimulus measures if needed to boost growth and maintain public confidence.

In his sole news conference of the year, Premier Wen Jiabao stressed
that a half-trillion-dollar stimulus program would revive the buoyant
growth dragged down by the global downturn and create jobs and provide
social welfare to cope with worsening unemployment. He pointedly called
on Washington to protect the value of Chinese holdings of U.S.
Treasuries and other debt, estimated to be worth about U$1 trillion.

More than painstakingly explaining policies, the precise, scholarly Wen
tried to convey the message that Beijing was confident it could
withstand the turmoil. He used the word confidence five times in as many
minutes at the start of the nationally televised news conference.

"Confidence is more important than gold and money," Wen told reporters
in the Great Hall of the People. "First and foremost, we have to have
very strong confidence. Only when we have strong confidence can we have
more courage and strength and only when we have courage and strength can
we overcome the difficulties."

Wen is the most popular figure in the usually remote communist
leadership. Sometimes referred to as "grandpa Wen," he is frequently
shown on state television touring the country, talking with farmers in
the countryside. As such, his popularity is a boon for an authoritarian
government that in part relies on its popularity to impress sometimes
recalcitrant local officials to carry out Beijing's policies.

Though largely focused on the domestic economy, Wen also twice defended
its record in Tibet, including ramped-up security intended to prevent a
repeat of the massive anti-government uprising that swept Tibetan
communities in western China a year ago.

"Tibet's peace and stability and Tibet's continuous progress have proven
the policies we have adopted are right," said Wen. He said Beijing has
hugely increased subsidies to Tibet in recent years to spur growth and
raise incomes in a chronically poor region.

The news conference, an annual fixture, was the first for Wen since he
began confronting the collective leadership's first economic crisis.
Since coming to power six years ago, Wen, President Hu Jintao and other
leaders have mostly faced the opposite situation, trying to slow
breakneck economic growth.

The turnaround for the economy has been swift. Growth has halved in a
year. Exports have cratered. Jobs are disappearing by the tens of
millions, raising the prospects of heightened unrest in a society that
has gotten used to steadily rising standards of living.

The centerpiece of the government's effort is the 4 trillion yuan ($586
billion) stimulus plan to be spent on infrastructure projects and social
programs. Before Wen's news conference, deputies to the Communist
Party-dominated national legislature overwhelmingly approved the
stimulus and the rest of a budget that will increase spending nearly 25
percent from last year's level to cope with the downturn.

Wen said the government stood ready to unveil additional stimulus
measures should the current ones prove insufficient to raising growth to
about 8 percent.

"We already have our plans ready to tackle even more difficult times,
and to do that we have reserved adequate ammunition," he said. "At any
time we can introduce new stimulus policies."

Unlike previous years, Wen struck a businesslike tone and shied away
from revealing personal details or quoting poetry ? displays that have
made him popular but are unusual for Chinese leaders. One exception: He
voiced his desire to visit Taiwan, Beijing's long-standing rival in a
half-century civil war but with whom ties are warming.

"Taiwan is China's treasured island," Wen said. If allowed, he would
visit the popular scenic spots of Mount Ali and Sun Moon Lake. "Although
I am 67 years old, if there's a chance for me to go to Taiwan, even if I
can no longer walk, I will crawl to the island."
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