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Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, China, Dec. 6-15, 2011

December 16, 2011

The basic purposes of our visit were to cement ties with the people and leaders of China, to explore future projects of The Carter Center (TCC) in the region, to study political and economic developments, and to gain financial and political support for future TCC projects involving China. Accompanied by Rosalynn, John Hardman, Yawei Liu, and Carter Center friends Jim and Janet Stanard and Paul Karon, we were supported by Curtis Kohlhaas, other members of our staff, and Madame Li Xiaolin and the Chinese Friendship Association.

Following a scholarly forum in Beijing to discuss China's involvement in Africa and how we might be of assistance, we went to the Great Hall of the People to meet with Vice President Xi Jinping, who is destined to become the top leader of the nation next year. This was my third visit with him, and after discussing matters of common interest we attended a large ceremony to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the visit of the U.S. ping pong team to China in 1971. This "ping pong diplomacy" led to the subsequent visit of President Nixon in 1972, seven more years of continuing U.S. recognition of Taiwan, and to my normalizing of diplomatic relations with the Peoples' Republic of China in 1979.

Some of the same 1971 ping pong players demonstrated their skills, as did the current champions from our two countries. V.P. Xi and I both made speeches to the assembly to emphasize the value of good bilateral relations and the importance of private citizens in this friendship. I pointed out that we now have about 160,000 Chinese students in American universities, and a plethora of U.S. business investments in China. Our differences (overemphasized during election years) are relatively insignificant when compared to the existing and potential future benefits from U.S.-China ties.

I then addressed the Academy of International Communication of Chinese Culture, headed by Hugo Shong, a friend of TCC, and received a nice donation for the Center. One emphasis of the conference was the often distorted picture of China in U.S. movies and other media. The next morning we met with Zeng Peiyan, president of China's largest think tank and Wei Jianguo, former Minister of Commerce, to discuss China's multiple economic and health programs throughout Africa. The next meeting, over lunch, was with Information Minister Wang Chen, who is in charge of enforcing laws and regulations dealing with the substance of all electronic communications. He explained the vast responsibilities re: monitoring the audio, visual, and Internet transmissions, emphasizing that much of the actual monitoring is done within Beijing and other cities where the transmissions originate. Our own heavily used websites come under these authorities, and some of our transmitted content has been criticized and forced to change.

We then flew to Guangzhou, a large (1½ times New York) and rapidly growing city north of Hong Kong, where we were briefed by Vice Governor Chen Yun Xian on his district, which now includes 103 million people and is the center for the production of many electronic and other items including those of Apple, Cisco, Amazon, H-P, and Microsoft. This is also the central distribution point for Wal-Mart products, going in and out of China. We visited the U.S. consulate and spoke to the staff, discussed European affairs with former British P.M. Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah, and then I addressed a large economic summit conference sponsored by Tim Halter and his associates.

On Sunday, 12/11, we drove to Shenzhen, where we visited Mr. Ren Zhenfei, head of the enormous Huawei company. According to media reports, it is the world's dominant producer of electronic components, and they are on the cutting edge of R&D, the acquisition of new patents (22,000 per year), and claim to be champions of protecting intellectual property rights. We spoke by video to their leaders in Atlanta, who offered to provide educational materials to the Boys & Girls Clubs in Sumter County and to work with TCC in the Atlanta area. We then stopped for photos at the enormous portrait of Deng Xiaoping, who anointed this previously rural area as a free trade center. After a lunch hosted by Vice Mayor Lu Ruifeng, we drove to Hong Kong.

This is always a special place for me. I became interested in Hong Kong as a small boy because of letters and gifts sent to me from here by my Uncle Tom Gordy, who was in the Navy. Later, in 1949, I visited the area on my first submarine and still have a number of photos of the bay, streets, rickshaws, and other scenes. I've been concerned about the shrinking of the harbor by landfills and skyscrapers, but was told that new laws now stop this trend. Hong Kong is still thriving, but competing intensely with Shanghai and Singapore for shipping and commerce. This is the only (legal) route for Chinese currency to the outside world.

Our first visit was to the U.S. consulate for a talk and questions, and then we went to Hong Kong Baptist University, which recently honored me with an honorary doctorate and with which TCC is forming a partnership to promote common goals in Asia and other places. The university has a branch within mainland China near Macao, and is contemplating other extensions. They have set aside space for our office and have provided space on their server for our website messages. After lunch with President Albert Chan Sun-chi and their key sponsors and faculty, I spoke to an audience of students and others and answered questions, some quite sensitive. (How will China respond to future demonstrations for more democracy? Are direct elections in Hong Kong the precursor of similar changes in China? How do you compare yourself and Obama as deserving the Nobel Peace Prize?)

In the evening we enjoyed having supper at the home of Tung Chee-hwa, attended by about 40 of the most important community leaders. I spoke to them about Carter Center projects and answered questions, primarily about current and future U.S.-China relations, North Korea, and some of the unpublished details of my role in normalizing relations. C.H. Tung was the first executive leader of Hong Kong after China resumed control from Britain about 14 years ago.

Tuesday, 12/13, after extensive interviews with Phoenix TV and other media, I spoke to an event, hosted by Steven Ying, The Foundation for Amazing Potentials, and the American Chamber of Commerce. I then answered questions from the audience of political, business, and academic leaders from Hong Kong. It was interesting to note how closely they seemed to be associated with mainland China (after a century of British rule), looking forward to 2017 when Hong Kong voters will begin electing their leaders through direct vote and not by a panel of 1,200 people controlled from Beijing. When/if the central government considers political reform for the entire nation, the democratic experiments in Hong Kong and with small village elections may provide some guidance.

Paul and the Stanards stayed behind when we flew to Beijing on a plane chartered by Caijing magazine, which had featured a cover story about me in their December edition, based on previous interviews conducted in Plains and Atlanta. They were our hosts for this final day in China, and we had a chance to rest for a few hours. The next morning we visited the U.S. embassy, had a session with the large staff, and a confidential briefing from our new Ambassador (Chinese-American) Gary Locke and his top advisors. (As usual, the U.S. officials tend to know more about Chinese economics and politics than they believe Chinese officials know about their own affairs.) I had a long TV interview with Mrs. Mona Locke, also Chinese-American, to be shown quite widely through diplomatic and other channels.

After inspecting TCC offices in downtown Beijing, I was interviewed by China Daily newspaper and China national radio, and then had lunch with Glyn Davies, newly appointed special envoy for North American affairs, accompanied by Ford Hart and Sid Seiler. They had completed visits in Japan, S. Korea, and China – not in N. Korea – and we were able to exchange views about next steps to de-nuclearize the peninsula and bring reconciliation among the Koreas and the U.S..

Beginning in the afternoon, I participated in the Caijing annual conference on "Forecasts and Strategies – Breakthroughs in China's Reform Strategy" with about 1,000 guests. Wang Boming was host and interviewer, and he later convened about 50 of China's top leaders for an exciting supper. They were heads of the largest banks, insurance companies, and other commercial enterprises, and there was a lively interchange as everyone left their seats and moved about in the dining area. Deng Xiaoping's daughter, Deng Nan, made a strong appeal to the group to support The Carter Center financially in our projects, and we will follow up with each of them.

In general, we were impressed with the enormous vitality of the Chinese economy, rapid improvements in commerce, transportation, education, and international influence, concern about election year "China bashing" from 2012 U.S. candidates, pride in 40 years of peaceful engagement with their neighbors, and quiet self-assurance about China's future role in global affairs. They recognize problems with inadequate equity of wealth distribution between rich and poor people and between eastern regions and those further west. In addition to accomplishing our goals, we received enough contributions from private sources, mostly speaking fees, to finance our China programs for several years.

Read More:

Dec. 15, 2011:  China Daily Interview: Carter Recalls Lifelong Fascination with China >>

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