U.S. Ambassador to China Served During Crackdown at Tiananmen Square
James R. Lilley, 81, a longtime CIA operative in Asia who served as ambassador to China during the Tiananmen Square crackdown and was regarded as one of the most pragmatic voices on the modern Sino-American relationship, died Nov. 12 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had complications related to prostate cancer.
Mr. Lilley, born in China, the son of an oilman and a schoolteacher, had a storied career as an intelligence officer in Asia. Gruff with a no-nonsense manner and a keen eye for detail that peppered his reports from the field, Mr. Lilley was singular in the fractious world of China-watching in that he was respected by both Communist China and Taiwan and across the political spectrum at home. Alone among U.S. officials, Mr. Lilley served as a U.S. ambassador to China and as the top American representative to Taiwan.
“Because he was raised in China, Jim Lilley had the ability to view China as an ordinary country with no romanticism about his views,” said J. Stapleton Roy, who succeeded him as ambassador to China in 1991. “On the one hand, he could be very critical of China. On the other hand, he could weigh in when you weren’t expecting it with a defense of our relationship with China.”
For more on Lilley’s life, see a blog post by Atlantic’s James Fallows.