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Old files reveal diplomatic secrets
( 2004-01-19 23:23) (China Daily)

China has opened part of its diplomatic archives to the public, a move widely regarded as a sign of progress to increase the country's diplomatic transparency.

The first batch of diplomatic files declassified were mainly concerning China's diplomacy between 1949 and 1955, said Lian Zhengbao, director-general of the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The 4,545 documents opened to the public include telegraphs about the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the former Soviet Union, along with other countries, and directives and speeches drafted by former Premier Zhou, then the foreign minister. There are also documents about Geneva and Asia-Africa conferences, and files and materials on consular, protocol and legal affairs, Lian said.

Citizens and organizations interested in reading the files are required to apply to the Archives some 20 work days in advance. Besides valid identification cards, foreigners need to take forms approval from their embassy or consulate in China.

Li Jiasong, former director-general of the Archives, said the declassification of these documents is an indication of social progress and the country expanding to the outside world.

"It is not easy to take the first step,'' Li said, adding that the declassification process has taken the ministry years to prepare.

According to China's Archives Law and other relevant regulations, historical files should be open to the public 30 years after they are made, but the declassification of diplomatic files may be prolonged under approval of the State Council.

If documents may impair the national interest, hamper China's relations with other countries, endanger state security or involve personal secrets, then they will not be opened to the public, Lian stated.

The archives is a base for permanent preservation of the diplomatic records accumulated since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. It has accumulated 330,000 volumes or pieces of records, which are mostly in paper form, with some microfilms, photos, audio and videotapes, compact discs and material objects.

Qu Xing, deputy president of the Beijing Foreign Affairs College, said the declassification will not only benefit academic research but help the public understand more about the government's foreign policy.

"The research, based on more reliable sources, will offer more rational suggestions to policy makers,'' Qu said.

Isogawa Tomoyoshi, China general bureau chief of Japan's Asahi Shimbun, was one of the early foreign viewers of the declassified files.

"These files will reveal many behind-the-scene stories and help us form a more complete understanding of the history,'' said Tomoyoshi.

"We all know that China and Japan stabilized relations in 1972. I learned from these files that the effort actually started as early as 1954 when China sent its Red Cross team to Japan,'' he said.

"The declassification also indicates that the Chinese Government is increasing transparency,'' he added.

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