FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN DIES AT 93


2004.06.06
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Paid groundbreaking visit to China in 1984

LOS ANGELES, California-Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan died at his home here Saturday at the age of 93. A onetime actor who rose above poverty and survived an assassination attempt, Reagan served as president from 1981-89 and is credited by many with hastening the end of the Cold War.

"My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has passed away," former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement. "We appreciate everyone's prayers."

Reagan's office said he died of pneumonia, which it described as a complication of his Alzheimer's disease. His wife, Nancy Davis Reagan, and their two children were with Reagan when he died at his home at 1:09 p.m. Another son, from his previous marriage to actress Jane Wyman, arrived at the home before news broke of his death.

Plans call for Reagan's body to be flown to Washington, D.C. this week.

As president, Reagan oversaw the largest military buildup in history, a huge tax cut, reduction in spending on domestic programs, and record-setting budget deficits.

Known as a genial man and dubbed "the great communicator" for his ability to convey his vision in simple, memorable language, Reagan often disarmed critics with quips and humor. He famously termed the Soviet government in Moscow "the evil empire" and described the United States as "a shining city on a hill."

During his second term in office, Reagan stepped up pressure on Moscow, then under the reformist leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, to stop the U.S.-Soviet arms race and end the Cold War. In 1989, the Soviet empire collapsed. Many people credit Reagan's policies with hastening that outcome and regard it as his most important legacy.

But Reagan's presidency was also tarnished by scandals, including what came to be called "the Iran-Contra affair," after senior aides were found to be shipping arms illegally to Iran and sending the profits to Nicaragua's right-wing Contra guerrillas. Their aim was to secure the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Islamic groups linked to Iran. Reagan denied knowing about the operation.

Changed views about "Red China"

James Lilley, former U.S. ambassador to China, served as head of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) under Reagan from 1982-84. He said in an interview Sunday with Radio Free Asia (RFA)'s Mandarin service that he had met with Reagan a number of times and that Reagan �cared about China.�

In the early 1980s, Reagan regarded the Soviet Union, not China, as �the primary devil.� It was therefore �essential� in Reagan�s view for Washington to work with Beijing, Lilley said. But Reagan also wanted good relations with Taipei.

�He had a deep friendship with Taiwan,� Lilley said.

Lilley recalled a meeting with Reagan in January 1982, that helped him to understand the commander-in-chief�s point of view on Taiwan, he said.

Lilley was attending a ceremony at the White House for U.S. ambassador-designates, although Lilley, as head of the AIT, technically lacked ambassadorial status.

Reagan greeted each appointee and then called Lilley aside and into the Oval Office for an unexpected one-on-one meeting. Reagan used the meeting to explain his strong feelings for the people of Taiwan.

In a separate interview with RFA�s Korean service, Lilley described what some experts consider one of Reagan�s finest foreign policy moves. Reagan sent a letter in June 1987 to South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan, who was facing widespread student demonstrations.

Lilley personally delivered the letter to Chun. It counseled Chun against declaring martial law and against using force against the students. After his meeting with Lilley, Chun agreed.

Reagan began his two-term presidency a strong advocate for Taiwan, with which the United States had severed diplomatic ties in favor of the Communist government in rival Beijing in 1979. In 1984, however, Reagan met with China's then-premier, the reformist Zhao Ziyang, in Washington, and paid a landmark visit to China.

Then U.S. President President Ronald Reagan, who died Saturday at 93, walks with Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, in Washington, Oct. 1, 1984. Both men held umbrellas to deflect rain after a meeting in the Cabinet Room in the White House. Zhao later became Chinese Communist Party general secretary, but he was stripped of his post days before the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 for sympathising with students who occupied the square in Beijing. Zhao remains under watch at home in Beijing.

Having attacked "Red China" for years, Reagan shifted his rhetoric dramatically during the trip, saying in a speech that Washington could get along "with this so-called Communist China" because its leaders had no expansionist aims and wanted to lure U.S. investment into the country.

"They are opening up now," Reagan said, with U.S. companies able "to create branches of their own in China, in this so-called Communist China... Capitalism will be there in these plants."

"We went to China to advance the prospects for stability and peace throughout the world. We went to illustrate, by our presence, our sincere desire for good relations. We went to meet again with the Chinese and review our concerns and differences. We went to China to further define our two countries' relationship and by defining it, advance it. I feel we have progress to report."

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, in the Midwestern U.S. state of Illinois. His father sold shoes and his mother was mainly a homemaker.

After college, Reagan worked as a sports broadcaster in Iowa. He took a screen test in 1937 and was cast in Love Is On the Air . He worked as an actor for 28 years and appeared in dozens of movies. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps as a second lieutenant in 1942. Disqualified from combat duty because of his poor eyesight, he was assigned to make training films.

He was elected governor of California in 1966 and entered the presidential fray two years later, but he lost the Republican nomination to former California governor Richard Nixon. He lost the Republican nomination again in 1976 to President Gerald Ford. Four years later he defeated Democratic President Jimmy Carter in a landslide.

Less than three months after being sworn in, Reagan was shot in the chest while leaving a Washington hotel. "Honey," he told his wife immediately afterward, "I forgot to duck." #####

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