The primary purpose of this visit to Beijing, Qingdao, Xian, and Shanghai was to enhance understanding between our two countries and to promote collaboration between The Carter Center and our primary contacts in China. Recent polls indicate that only 10 percent of Chinese believe the United States can be trusted “a fair amount,” and only 25 percent of Americans feel the same way about China. Many Chinese think the United States wants to change their political system and control the rapid growth of Chinese economic and political influence, while Americans are concerned about adverse trade imbalance and aggressive Chinese policies that create disharmony with Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam. The United States has political and military alliances with some of these countries.
There has been a tremendous surge in China’s economic strength and worldwide diplomatic involvement during the past 35 years, since normalization of relations with the United States and simultaneous implementation of “reform and opening up” in China. This creates an inevitable competitive relationship between the two great powers. President Xi Jinping has become the most forceful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, and some of his actions and statements have increased a sense of nationalism in China, with his emphasis on the “China dream.” At the same time, President Obama has made statements to emphasize the renewed or increased commitment of the United States to an active role in Asia.
During this trip we focused on: a) finding areas of cooperation between our Center and friends in China regarding issues of mutual interest, especially regarding developing nations, b) educating young Chinese (future leaders) on how U.S.-Chinese relations might be improved, c) meeting with top policy makers and business leaders from both sides to engage in productive dialogue, and d) continuing our overall commitment to insuring sound and mutually respectful relations between China and the United States Our new website, “U.S.-China Perception Monitor” is devoted to these same goals.
A few hours before we arrived in Beijing, the Ministry of Education instructed all the universities to refrain from sponsoring our events, which had been arranged many weeks ago. We began shifting the venues to hotels and attempted to learn the reason for this unprecedented departure from my previous treatment in China. However, this problem was quickly resolved, and may have been caused by a general concern about foreigners relating directly to students as well as a bureaucratic unease because of uncertainty regarding the massive anti-corruption drive. The two universities in Beijing and also in Shanghai went ahead with our previous arrangements, and we made the change easily in Xian Jiao Tong University. All our public events were warm and cordial, and throughout our trip there were frequent celebrations of my upcoming 90thbirthday, the 110th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s birth, the 35th year of normal diplomatic relations, and 65 years after my first visit to China and the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The beginning of the Harvest Festival enhanced the celebrations. On all our stops we enjoyed meetings with Chinese business, commercial, and media leaders to discuss our Center’s various programs and to review our partnerships with them.
Beijing (Sept. 3-5): After I had a number of news interviews and a fine briefing by Ambassador Max Baucus and his staff, we enjoyed a think-tank discussion of G20 affairs at Renmin University. The next day was an especially frank and productive third forum on U.S.-China relations in the Great Hall of the People. New Carter Center CEO Mary Ann Peters was one of the speakers. The fourth annual event will be at The Carter Center in 2015. In the same location that evening, we had a large formal commemoration of the 35thanniversary of normal relations, with Vice-President Li Yuanchao as co-host.
On our final day in Beijing we visited the National Museum and then opened an exhibit at Yan Huang Art Museum to celebrate U.S.-China friendship. That evening we attended an emotional banquet, hosted by Deng Xiaoping’s daughter Deng Rong, and attended by many key players who participated in our secret negotiations in 1978, accompanied Deng and his wife to America in 1979, or were personal friends of the Deng family during the “Long March” that brought about the formation of the People’s Republic of China, which took place on my 25th birthday.
Xian (Sept. 6): Xian is the ancient capital of China and the hub of both east-west and north-south commerce. After being welcomed by provincial governor Lou Qinjian, we attended a ceremony to initiate a Carter Center partnership with Jiao Tong University. With media giant Global Times as a co-sponsor, this will be a continuing forum of young Chinese and Americans with the aim of enhancing understanding between our countries. The next forum will be at The Carter Center in 2015. We then visited the site of the terra-cotta warriors for a thorough tour. Remarkable developments have been made since Rosalynn and I first visited the enormous display in 1981, just a few years after its discovery. There were tens of thousands of tourists present, including many Americans who sang the “happy birthday” song. There are about 100 universities and colleges in Xian, with a total of 300,000 students.
Qingdao (Sept. 7): We stayed at a beautiful new resort about 35 miles north of the city, where I helped dedicate a new financial center and then had a banquet with Vice-Mayor Liu Mingjun. After brief visits to Hong Kong and Shanghai in 1949, our submarine spent about two weeks operating out of Qingdao. U.S. Marines were stationed here (with Kuomintang troops) for about three years following seven years of Japanese occupation. The surrounding hills were all controlled by Chinese communist forces, who were poised to take the city. They did so, soon after we departed. I remember that all the shops were boarded up, Nationalist soldiers were conscripting young boys at gunpoint, and our sub always tied up with the bow pointing toward the sea to permit instant departure if needed. What I remember as a small coastal city is now a metropolis larger than New York City. We had a lively exchange with our Chinese hosts, and when they brought in (another) birthday cake, there was a simultaneous fireworks display on the nearby beach.
Shanghai (Sept. 8-9): Now the world’s largest (and most modern) city, with an expanding population of more than 24 million, Shanghai exemplifies the rapid urbanization that is taking place all over China. “Ring roads” encircle the old cities that I knew (Beijing now has six), and thousands of high-rise apartment buildings are being built in the new neighborhoods to house families pouring in from rural areas. Many workers are needed, and it is much more efficient to provide people with housing, food, education, medical care, and other necessities when they live together in a metropolitan area. Large cities are connected with more than 7,000 miles of high-speed trains, and new universities are being opened every year.
Our first stop was a visit with executives of ZTE, now the world’s number one producer of cell phones and other hand-held electronic devices. They are providing our Center with teleconferencing equipment and also smaller tablets to be used in observing elections. After a temporary setback in the United States, caused by congressional allegations of being a security risk, ZTE has formed partnerships with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc., and is now catching up with the company’s progress in the rest of the world. After media interviews, I enjoyed a teleconference forum with local high school students and others in Toronto and New York and answered many questions.
The next day I met with party secretary of Shanghai and member of the CCP Politburo Mr. Han Zhang and gave three speeches, always followed by many sensitive and probing questions from historians, political scientists, and young scholars. Subjects ranged from restrictions on New York Times reporters to China’s relations with Japan, with frequent comments about the need for China and the United States to correlate plans on dealing with climate change. There is a disturbing assumption that America is a “status quo” or dormant society and that China is in an ascendant mode in almost all aspects of life. President Obama is quoted often regarding a new and expanded U.S. presence in the Western Pacific and a claim that China is a “free rider” on the backs of American entrepreneurs and scientists. I did my best to emphasize that peace has prevailed for 35 years, how much more complex international relations in Asia were in 1979, that we have had a strong diplomatic, military, and commercial involvement in this region for many generations, and that present differences are far outweighed by interests that we have in common. Massive trade and commerce, millions of tourists exchanged, and the 240,000 Chinese students now in the United States provide good opportunities for better understanding and mutual respect.
Every event was pleasant, but I almost felt my age after more than a dozen speeches and the attendant needs to remember my hosts, adjust to changing audiences, emphasize important points, and answer streams of unpredictable questions. At the same time, it was gratifying to be treated as a guest of honor, often with emotion because of the decision I made with Deng Xiaoping.
By JIMMY CARTER September 11, 2014 in The Carter Center