WASHINGTON — The State Department, responding to complaints that it was slow to react to the violence in China, said Thursday that U.S. Embassy staff members in Beijing did "their damnedest" to evacuate Americans.
"The perception is certainly there that the U.S. Embassy in China did not anticipate and, therefore, was not prepared to deal adequately with this crisis in China. We should have known!" California Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton), chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, said at a hearing.
He said many American students told of difficulty in leaving China and had not gotten much help from the U.S. Embassy.
But Richard Williams, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said Ambassador James R. Lilley and the embassy staff worked around the clock to help Americans in China after the violence in Tian An Men Square early on June 4 when Chinese troops fired on demonstrators.
"More than 6,000 Americans left China safely over the past week, one of the largest evacuations of Americans in a crisis situation since World War II," Williams said in his testimony.
"No American died in the crisis in China, and only two U.S. citizens were injured. Maybe it wasn't perfect. But they (the embassy staff) gave it their damnedest."
When Americans were advised to leave China, Williams said, embassy officials contacted as many of them as possible and organized convoys to the Beijing airport for more than 200 Americans.
Williams said that about 1,000 Americans remain in China, including 182 U.S. government employees.
Meanwhile, a senior Administration official said the turmoil in China does not necessarily mean the country has turned its back on economic and political reforms, the Associated Press reported. The official, who requested anonymity, suggested that the United States still can do business with supreme leader Deng Xiaoping despite the military crackdown and the massacre of hundreds--perhaps thousands--of people.