BEIJING — Premier Zhao Ziyang defended the Chinese Communist Party's purge of dissident members but said in an interview broadcast Sunday that intellectuals are free to voice their opinions outside the party.
"I don't think this is a crackdown," Zhao told NBC's Tom Brokaw in a rare interview. It was taped last week and broadcast in the United States on the Sunday program "Meet the Press."
Zhao has also been the party's acting general secretary since Hu Yaobang was ousted last winter. He said he does not want the job permanently.
"I think I'm not that fit to be the general secretary," Zhao said. "I'm more fit to look after economic affairs."
Expected to Get Post
Zhao has made similar statements in the past, but nonetheless he is widely expected to be given the top party post at the 13th party congress, which begins Oct. 25.
He told Brokaw: "There is a regulation in the Communist Party of China that the party member should observe the direction from the party. And I think this matter will be finally decided upon" by the congress.
Hu lost his post as general secretary after being criticized as too soft on pro-democracy student demonstrators. Both Hu and Zhao rose to power as proteges of top leader Deng Xiaoping.
As premier, Zhao has been the main implementer of market-force economic reforms advocated by Deng to reduce the role of central planning.
Zhao, 68, has given few interviews to Western reporters since taking office in 1980. The "Meet the Press" program begins a week of special NBC coverage of China during which the "Today" show and "NBC Nightly News" will be broadcast from Beijing.
Asked about dissidents jailed for criticizing the Chinese leadership, Zhao said: "So far as I know, there is no such case for people to be unfairly treated or even arrested or jailed simply because they have criticized . . . the leadership. Of course . . . if people violate the law, it will be another case."
The premier said that in U.S.-Chinese relations, "the major obstacle, or the greatest difficulty and the theme we worry about, is the question of Taiwan."