James Lilley died Thursday in Washington

James R. Lilley, former U.S. ambassador to China, died Thursday at a Washington hospital. He was 81. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement, praised his contributions to promote relations between the United States and East Asian countries. While among all the former ambassadors to China, James Lilley was the most unwelcome people to the Chinese government.

James Lilley considered his efforts including: establish the intelligence cooperation between the United States and China during the Cold War era, the joint acquisition of the former Soviet Union’s intelligence, this project was initiated by James Lilley; the foundation of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Beijing Station.

Lilley said that the intelligence connector locations he designed 30 years ago in Beijing are still valid after 30 years; He also Meet South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, asked the president in person to renounce violence in the authoritarian suppression of the student movement, and opened the process of democratization in South Korea; in the Taiwan Strait he tried to seek a balance between both sides and spare no effort to safeguard Taiwan’s interests; he was the ambassador to China when China’s domestic incident took place in 1989, Fang Lizhi had taken refuge in the US embassy with his help, although finally he and Fang Lizhi broke off.

James Lilley was born in 1928 in Qingdao, China, he spent childhood in China living in China’s foreign community, which means living in the isolated island. He also acknowledged that, despite living in China for many years, he only got very limited contact with the Chinese people.

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Lilley returned to the U.S when he was 14 years old. He joined the CIA after graduating from Yale University and had served there for 25 years. Lilley went to China together with Bush (director of China Liaison Office) in 1970s, working as CIA intelligence agent, and back to China again in 1989 to work as the U.S. ambassador to China, until his leaving in 1991. He had experienced the most turbulent period of Sino-US relations ever since Nixon‘s visit to China.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her statement that Lilley was “one of the best diplomats” in the U.S. She said James Lilley had helped to establish the relationship between the United States and East Asian countries in decades. James Lilley was the first teacher for many distinguished diplomats, he also inspired generations of Chinese experts.

For the Chinese people, the mainland and the Taiwanese people’s appraisal of him are almost diametrically opposed. James Lilley was very popular in Taiwan, and he felt himself like a guest in Taiwan. However, because of his strong anti-Communist stance in words and deeds, has became persona non grata in mainland China.

James Lilley devoted his life in intelligence work to China, he had two most rewarding times: First, during the Cultural Revolution, he collected a lot of information in Hong Kong; second, in May 1989 to June Beijing’s political turmoil, he was the ambassador there and sent a number of cases back to Washington.

“China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia”
by James R. Lilley
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