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Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to China, Sept. 4-10, 2010

September 13, 2010

The purposes of our trip were to promote the expanding projects of The Carter Center in China, to enhance relations between the U.S. and the P.R.C., to fulfill our promises of last year to visit the World Expo in Shanghai, to ascertain opinions of South Korean and Chinese officials regarding North Korea, and to discuss other issues of mutual interest. We were official guests of the Chinese government, hosted by Madam Li Xiaolin, head of the Chinese Peoples' Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

During a stopover in Seoul, I discussed the status of the six-power talks with North Korea that can lead to eliminating nuclear weapons from the peninsula and ultimately to a comprehensive peace agreement among the DPRK, S. Korea, and the U.S. to replace the fragile ceasefire that has existed since the end of the Korean War.

In Beijing Rosalynn and I were met by President and CEO of The Carter Center Dr. John Hardman, Trustee Terry Adamson, and staff members Laura Newman and Yawei Liu. Our first meeting was with officials from Zouping County, where our Center has been working to improve village elections and now has a pilot project in enhancing Access to Information, called Open Government Information (OGI) by the Chinese. In both these areas of governance we are cooperating officially with the government. I then spoke at Tsinghua University to a public forum designed to publicize and promote increased access to information throughout the nation.

After a briefing by U.S. embassy staff, we met with the Minister of State Council Information Office Wang Chen, who is responsible for the dissemination of information, including "propaganda" and censorship. Because of our role with OGI and our website that has millions of hits each week, our relationship with him is very important.

Our next meeting was with Premier Wen Jiabao, a popular leader who has been making some highly publicized statements calling for "political reform," while extolling the former administrations of Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and Party Secretary Hu Yaobang, who helped bring openness to society and government. The premier emphasized that two key elements in political reform were village elections and Open Government Information. He was quite interested in my visit to Pyongyang and confirmed that the positive messages I received there were the same that Kim Jong Il had brought to China. He surprised us by quoting the DPRK leader regarding the prospective promotion of his son, Kim Jong Un, as "a false rumor from the West." We'll just have to wait to learn the truth about the succession in power.

As have all other top leaders since the time of Deng Xiaoping, he reminded me of my commitment on behalf of the U.S. government that arms sales to Taiwan would be limited to defensive weapons, and would be reduced over time - provided China would agree to resolve differences with Taiwan peacefully. Every Chinese leader knows that our commitment has been violated, including with the large sale of advanced weapons announced recently. This is a top concern for them. Except for this issue, this was one of my most warm and relaxed of my many sessions in the ancient Hall of Purple Lights.

We concluded our stay in Beijing with a supper hosted by Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo, one of whose responsibilities is administering the program of democratic elections within almost 600,000 small villages.

The next day we flew to Zhijiang, in Hunan Province, which was the operating base for General Claire Chennault and the Flying Tigers. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, this group of aviators was fighting alongside Chinese forces (both Communist and Nationalist) to defeat the occupying Japanese. During the dismal months just after Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers downed 300 Japanese planes while losing only 12, which I remember as a morale-boosting achievement. Some of the American veterans, their families, and Chennault's granddaughter joined a large crowd of Chinese for an emotional ceremony, where I spoke, and then helped unveil a large statue of the General at the site of the subsequent Japanese surrender. We then planted commemorative trees, in a temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The last time I sweated that much was in a South Georgia cotton field.

The next morning in Shanghai I participated in opening ceremonies of the International Friendship Cities Conference, attended by delegations representing hundreds of cities from about 50 nations. While I attended a series of meetings with the mayor and top party officials, Rosalynn visited and spoke at the Shanghai Mental Health Center. Later we met for a delightful visit to the World Expo, but only had time to visit the Chinese, American, and Spanish pavilions, leaving 180 others unexplored. China's presentations were breathtaking, and Spain's were colorful and exciting.

There is no way to describe the enormous changes taking place in China, with new highways, subways, high-speed rail, and extraordinary advances in architecture and education. (We are financing a large portion of our huge deficits by selling U.S. bonds to China, and now owe almost $1 trillion.) Their society is highly disciplined and benefits from long-range planning and financing that seems to be unlimited. It is interesting to note that Communist Party officials at any place are always preeminent as compared to mayors, governors, and presidents of universities. The Party is now actively recruiting the most outstanding young people, and the very serious students consider fluency in English to be a key to future success.

Our last day was spent in Changsha, again in Hunan Province, where the main event was a visit to Hunan University, observing its 1034th year of teaching. There are large statues of Confucius and Mao Zedong. Mao was not considered to be qualified as a student, but it is said that he swam across a river and sneaked into some of the classes. I made a speech to several thousand students, participated in a discussion panel with Terry Adamson, Mary Brown Bullock, and Marianna Feld, and then answered a wide range of questions from the students. It is always interesting for me to speak to large university audiences in China where no headphones or other translation is needed. When students ask questions, they are easy to understand, often sounding like native speaking Americans.

We returned home after what was another interesting and successful visit.

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