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President Carter's Japan and China Trip Report

By Jimmy Carter

Trip Report, Japan & China September 3-12, 2003

Rosalynn, John Hardman, Melissa Montgomery, and I departed for Tokyo on Wednesday September 3. The primary purposes of this trip were to promote the development of agriculture in Africa and to further political democratization in China, to build upon the ongoing projects of The Carter Center in these important arenas. We have now completed more than a million agricultural test plots in 15 African nations, and are prepared to extend our six-year village election monitoring effort for three more years.

In advance, I accepted invitations to address the United Nations University in Tokyo and Peking University, and we made arrangements for me to meet with political leaders of both countries and to pursue sources of funding for Guinea worm eradication, our endowment, and other purposes. (Both speeches are on our Web site. Click here for links.)

My U Thant lecture at the United Nations University fit in well with preparations for the seminal conference to be held later this month between Japan's Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD III) and representatives from almost all African nations who will represent the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). I emphasized food production as a top priority, both to meet a basic human right and at the same time to have a direct beneficial effect on economic progress. Africans now consume 29 percent fewer calories daily than do others, child mortality is extremely high, and more than 70 percent of all people employed in Africa are in agriculture. The grossly high crop subsidies in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. are far more damaging to the developing world than the total benefits that accrue from foreign aid, and U.S. subsidies are especially embarrassing because such a large portion goes to wealthy farm families and corporations (an average of $100,000 annually to each cotton farmer).

We also met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Chairman Hiroshi Okuda of Keidanren, and others who have been generous and dependable partners of The Carter Center for many years. The government has contributed a total of $12.5 million, and other more private sources have also been helpful. We thanked them and received assurances of continuing assistance. We had supper with Trustee Tad Yoshida and his family at the same little yakitori restaurant that we habitually visit. According to the plaques around the table, this was my 12th meal there, beginning in 1975.

We spent much of our time with Yohei Sasakawa, Chairwoman Ayako Sono, and other leaders of the Nippon Foundation, and had a press conference where many of the questions were about North Korea, our visit there in 1994, and opinions about how best to resolve this crisis. I had deliberately expressed my views in USAToday so that my thoughts would be known before leaving the U.S.

On Sunday September 7 we flew to Beijing where we joined Gordon Streeb and Yawei Liu and had a briefing from the embassy staff in preparation for my speeches, media interviews, and meetings with political leaders. Wang Yingfan, recently returned to China from being ambassador to the U.N., was our designated host. He is now Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC). We discussed with Li Xueju, Minister of Civil Affairs, our ongoing village election project, and he and I gave awards in a large ceremony to winners of a nationwide essay contest on the subject of democracy in rural areas of China. We were pleased to sign a new memorandum of understanding with the government leaders, extending our services for three more years.

I made a speech on democracy and the rule of law at Peking University, and described in fairly forceful terms the advantages of having direct elections of public officials. Following is a key portion of the remarks:

"Some noted scholars argue that direct elections of public officials are not suitable for China, comparing your own stability and economic progress with that of India and Russia. The fact is that your great nation has already made the remarkable transition to a relatively open society with sustained economic growth, based primarily on reforms initiated during the past quarter century. There is no doubt that further political changes could be made, if desired, without any real threat to stability or the rule of law.

"My personal belief is that the goals of accountability, transparency, and the maintenance of a stable and orderly society can best be reached when the people are given the right and responsibility of choosing their own leaders directly. It is beneficial for all citizens to feel that they are involved personally in the shaping of their own destiny, and for leaders to know that their political futures depend upon honoring promises and meeting the legitimate needs of those who have put them in office.

"This usually results in an easing of tensions, a spirit of voluntary teamwork, and an inclination to accept government decisions as coming from within one's own family. Although democratic government processes are sometimes fumbling and confusing, as in my own country, there is an innate capability for self-correction of mistakes and the peaceful accommodation of changing circumstances.

"Contrary to the arguments of some scholars, there is no incompatibility between democracy and the rule of law, as proven in my country, Canada, throughout Europe, and in many other stable and prosperous nations in the world. Some, like South Korea, have had to face serious economic challenges brought about by global market changes, scarcity of raw materials, or inept management, but their resilience has been proven as their citizens and governments, as a unified team, have rallied to overcome the problems.

"It is only in the proper melding of the people and their government, in a democracy, that elected leaders can afford to permit complete freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, unrestricted worship, movement from one place to another, the formation of trade unions to represent the interests of workers, unimpeded access to the internet, and other ways to demonstrate free will and political human rights."

The students were perfectly fluent in English, and we had a stimulating exchange of questions and answers following my speech, concentrating especially on these comments.

We later had extensive meetings with Standing Committee Vice Chairman Sheng Huaren and other leaders of the NPC. We signed an unprecedented memorandum of understanding with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NPC that will allow us to work with the NPC in the areas of standardizing electoral procedures of People's Congress deputies at the local level, training People's Congress deputies and officials, mutual exchanges, and information gathering on China's political reform. We enjoyed meeting with President Hu Jintao, who was refreshingly at ease, frank, and uninhibited in discussing world affairs and matters of interest in our work in China. As in Japan, the Chinese leaders had a burning interest in North Korea, our visit with Kim il Sung, and my present thoughts on the impasse. I made it clear that I would like to go back.

From Beijing, John Hardman and I proceeded September 9 to Seattle, Washington, for extensive discussions with the leaders and general staff of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, followed by the keynote speech when the new law school was named for Bill Gates, Sr. We also met with some of our friends and donors, including Casey and Jim Margard, Rob Glaser, and Chris Hughes, before returning home in time to prepare for the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, to be held in Washington next week.

Read President Carter's Speeches:

Sixth U Thant Distinguished Lecture, United Nations University,
Tokyo, Japan, Sept. 5, 2003

Speech to Beijing (Peking) University, Sept. 9, 2003

Read more about the Japan & China trip, including media coverage.

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