Deng Xiaoping was a brilliant leader in the shaping of modern China, recalled former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, adding that he had enjoyed "special friendship" with Deng for more than two decades.
"To the world as a whole, he (Deng) has showed how a country can be handled to get rapid expansion, and how it can make its contribution to the whole world in return," the 88-year-old Heath said in a recent interview with Xinhua at his home in Salisbury, southern England.
Special friendship between heath and Deng
Heath visited China 26 times in 27 years starting in May 1974, about two months after his four-year premiership came to an end. It was his government that established full diplomatic relations with China in 1972 and Deng happened to be the first significant Chinese leader he encountered in China.
Heath recalled, "I met Deng Xiaoping for the first time in 1974,when he came to meet me at the airport. He led me along the three lines of cheering people who came to greet me. At that time I told him thank you for looking after me."
"Then I got to see more of him when he occupied the position of a deputy leader (vice premier) and we saw a great deal with each other... The last time I met him was just before he retired," he continued, adding that he could not count how many times he met the late Chinese leader in total because their meetings were just too many.
"Every meeting with him was interesting for me. I think also often for him," Heath said with a smile.
"I did treat the friendship between Deng Xiaoping and myself special," he said, noting that Deng always arranged him to stay in the same guest house he had lived during his first visit to Beijing.
Heath's visits to China in late 1970s helped break ice which had separated China from the West for decades. In the 1980s, his visits also played a key role in the Sino-UK negotiations on China's resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, scholars say.
Remarkably, it was during the talks with Heath in Beijing in April 1982 that Deng outlined overall principles on how to solve the Hong Kong issue, giving vital impetus to the tough negotiations between the two countries.
The basis of one country with two systems, proposed by Deng, "is entirely new, and was created specifically to address Hong Kong's needs. I believe it can work successfully," Heath said.
"The safe and peaceful return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 was a historic and moving event" which is also the best outcome to China, Britain, Hong Kong and to the whole world as well, Heath added.
Deng's personality in heath's eyes
Heath said that throughout all their meetings and mail exchanges, Deng made an outstanding impression on him.
"His personality was quiet, but also intensive. He thought things beforehand and explained them immediately. He never hesitated and they made a big impression," Heath mused.
"And he did have a greater vision of China, a very broad vision, also of its relations with other countries" when he introduced reforms and opening-up policies in 1978, Heath said.
Deng "had rather wise, brilliantly extensive knowledge of his country's affairs and the major world's affairs which affected China. He knew them, he knew all about them and understood them intensively," he went on.
In his memoir published in 1998, Heath said, "I enjoyed our discussions, and found Deng Xiaoping to be open and straightforward in putting his arguments. He always seemed receptive to what I told him, prepared to give a direct answer to a direct question, and also loved to spice our discussions with humor. "
"Deng obviously kept his long-term objectives clearly in mind and had thought deeply about how to achieve them. His stamina was remarkable, and his staying power was proven time and time again," he wrote.
Heath has now personally met with three generations of Chinese leaders. He had two long talks with Mao Zedong respectively in 1974 and 1975, a large number of meetings with Deng in three decades, and also met the then Chinese President Jiang Zemin in 1995.
Thanks to the reforms begun by Deng and carried on by his successors, China has been undergoing "absolutely astonishing" transformation and is booming. It also exerts greater influence on international affairs, Heath said.
The current Chinese leadership "is following Deng's ideas but also take the opportunities to go further," Heath observed.
(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2004)