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Remarks by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the Li Xiannian Library in Hong'an, China

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter traveled to China in January 2009 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of normalizing diplomatic relations with Deng Xiaoping and to expand the Carter Center's working relations with government ministries.

First, I'd like to express my respect to the governor and thank you for coming, to the American Consulate General for being here, but especially to Madame Li. It's a great pleasure for me and my wife and the others from The Carter Center to come and see this remarkable new village and to have a chance to welcome those of you who have come from around this community.

As Madam Li has said, my wife and I come also from a very small village. It's bigger than yours because we have 600 people. I am a peanut farmer, and I also grow cotton and corn, and primarily pine trees. My wife and I have families that have had the same farmland now for more than 175 years. She and I were both born in this village and we still live there. So you can see we haven't gotten very far in life. But one of the wonderful things about our lives has been the chance to visit this great country.

I first visited China in 1949 as a young officer on an American submarine. We spent time in Hong Kong and Shanghai and also Qingdao. That same year, your great nation was born, The People's Republic of China. I've always been proud that your birthday as a nation was on my birthday, October 1st. I was 25 years old when your nation was born.

Later, when I became governor of Georgia and then president of the United States, I was determined to change the relationship between China and the United States. For 30 years we had not had diplomatic relations between our two countries. So in 1978, I began to negotiate across the seas with my good friend, Deng Xiaoping. There were many problems that we had to address. China has a different culture, a different political system, and obviously a great ancient history. But he was a courageous and wise man and I enjoyed being with him as a friend across the seas.

On the 16th day of December, 1978, Deng Xiaoping announced in Beijing that he and I had been successful in our negotiations. At the same time, a day earlier because of the dateline, I made the same announcement in Washington, DC. Only two days later, on the 18th of December, Deng Xiaoping announced his reform and also his opening up. So reform and opening up the society of China and new diplomatic relations with the United States were indeed the starting point for wonderful changes in your country.

I invited Deng Xiaoping to visit our country sometime, and he immediately responded, 'I'll be there next month.' It was a wonderful visit, and an instant friendship was built between your leader, Deng Xiaoping, and the people of my country. At that time, no one could have of dreamed about the wonderful changes that have taken place in China in the last 30 years. This new friendship has been wonderful for your people and for the people of the United States. I believe it's also been beneficial to the entire nation, and the entire world and people all over the Earth. We have come to maintain peace and stability throughout the Eastern World. The reform and opening up has permitted China to become now one of the greatest economic powers on Earth. You are the fourth largest economy in the world and the largest exporter of goods in the entire world. And China's political influence has expanded now through Africa, Latin America, and in all other countries. It is very important that you as citizens of China, and citizens of the United States, learn as much as possible about each other. It is important for us to have personal friendships and understanding.

Today is a special day for me and my wife to visit the home of one of the greatest leaders that China has ever seen. Born just a few steps from here was a great general who helped to bring freedom and a new life for the people of China. He joined the great military commander that was successful in warfare. And because of his wisdom and his integrity, his confidence and strength, he became a great political leader as well. He became the finance minister for your nation and later the president of The People's Republic of China. He later visited my country representing your nation. It is very interesting to me that he came from this small village. I feel in some way that my life is parallel to his because I also came from a very small village. He was a good furniture maker, and I also make furniture. He was a military man, and I was a military man. I served in the submarine force in the Navy. And we both moved from military life to a political life.

I think the strength of your country comes from the combined commitment of people who live in small villages like this who work with your own hands in the fields and building furniture and homes and who represent the characteristics of life that never change. The world changes with new developments and highways and equipment and machines and airplanes and so forth. The world changes very rapidly and very often. But the basic principles of life never change. When I made my inaugural speech when I became president of the United States, I quoted words of my own teacher in my small town of Plains. She always told us, we must accommodate changing times, but cling to unchanging principles. And those principles are honesty and integrity and hard work and humility. A commitment to peace and making friendships and honoring those friendships and realizing that it is not how wealthy a person is that makes the worth of that person.

One of the commitments of your system of government and mine is that all people are created equal. We must all be proud of what we've done and thankful for the blessings of our life. And we are to share our blessings with others around us who might be not so fortunate. Let me express my deep thanks to all of you for coming here and honoring me and my wife with this unforgettable experience. I hope that if people can understand each other, that we will have not only another 30 years, but another 300 years of friendship and accommodation and partnership and mutual respect.

Madame Li, let me express my personal thanks to you for taking care of us every time we visited China the last two years and for giving me this highest moment of my life in China visiting your hometown. Thank you.

Read President Carter's China trip report

Learn more about the Carter Center's China Program

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter gives a speech at the Li Xiannian Library in Hong'an, China.Carter Center photos
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter gives a speech at the Li Xiannian Library in Hong'an, China.

The Carters pose with villagers in Hong'an, China.The Carters pose with villagers in Hong'an, China.

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