December 10, 2007
As has been our custom every few years since leaving the White House, Rosalynn and I wanted to go to China to discuss ongoing projects of The Carter Center, plan for future ones, and especially to meet the new leaders recently chosen in the 17th National People's Congress.
After being welcomed in Beijing by Ambassador Clark "Sandy" Randt and an old friend, Madam Li Xiaolin of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, Rosalynn and I met John Hardman and Yawei Liu at the Raffles Beijing Hotel.
The next morning (12/4) I addressed the embassy staff, and then we had a confidential briefing on U.S.-China relations from Ambassador Randt. Remarkably, he has been at this post for more than six years. We then had lunch with a group of distinguished Chinese scholars and academics who had a special knowledge of both our countries. During the afternoon I met with Mr. Tang Jiaxuan, State Councilor in charge of foreign affairs, for a thorough review of current events and especially the role of The Carter Center as the first foreign NGO welcomed into China.
Our first two projects were to orchestrate the training of Chinese elementary teachers in educating children who were blind and deaf and to help with the planning and equipping of a large factory in Beijing for the production of high technology prostheses. Our more recent work has been monitoring and assisting the Ministry of Civil Affairs with the conduct of democratic elections in the 650,000 small villages that are below townships, the lowest rung of the Chinese government system.
We had heard of some allegations that we had exceeded our authority in some way, and I wanted to alleviate these doubts. Our standard policy in all foreign nations is to work harmoniously and within the direction of the host governments. Mr. Tang appeared not to be aware of any problems and indicated that our work is in line with the political reform agenda of China.
After an elaborate 16-course banquet hosted by Madam Li and attended by many Chinese entrepreneurs, I participated until late at night in an intercontinental press roundtable discussion of The Elders' experiences and recommendations regarding problems in Sudan and Darfur.
During the next morning I prepared a text for my afternoon speech (needed for the interpreters) and had an extensive television interview encompassing our Center's work and the history and significance of my decision to normalize diplomatic relations with China. The simultaneous announcement was made by me and Deng Xiaoping almost exactly 29 years ago, in December 1978. For the speech, I decided to quote directly from my personal diary notes, some thoughts and events that had not previously been reported.
We had lunch with another group of business and financial leaders, who represented a phalanx of extremely successful entrepreneurs who have emerged from China's shift to free enterprise and its remarkable economic growth – compounding annually at a rate of 10-11 percent! With their collective accumulation of wealth, there is the inevitable prospect of large purchases of interests in America's corporate and financial world.
During the afternoon forum, my outline of private events from May 1977 until Deng completed his U.S. visit in January 1979 was followed by a series of questions from the audience. This made me consider the prospect of (slightly) editing and publishing my diary notes sometime in the near future. I had additional news interviews, and then we went to the Great Hall of China for our meeting with Xi Jinping. I was the first western leader to meet with him since he was elevated to the Standing Committee of politburo of the CPC Central Committee, with expectations that he will succeed Hu Jintao as China's top leader after five more years.
After a frank, relaxed, and enjoyable discussion of a wide range of issues, he hosted a dinner for about a dozen people – our own group and his associates. Like me, he is a former farmer, reform-minded governor, and has been elevated to a high position at a relatively early age. All of us were impressed with his knowledge and willingness to discuss any subject without evasiveness. I wanted him to know that our Center would be pleased to continue our existing work in China and to explore other projects if desired. He indicated that the Chinese government will extend help to the activities of The Carter Center if necessary.
The next morning we went to the Chinese University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), where I delivered the keynote address and responded to questions from the assembled students, all of whom were eloquent in English. This is the largest law school in the world, with 17,000 enrolled in the subject – many destined for future high positions in the nation. All of them are highly qualified, selected from among those in the top one percent academically. They stirred with amusement and interest when I described my meeting with Xi Jinping and included him in the list of national leaders in whose footsteps they might follow.
I then had a more private session with professors and students who are concentrating their studies on the theories and practical application of human rights. They seemed to be thoroughly familiar with my political career and the work of The Carter Center, and I encouraged them to be bold in their analyses and recommendations to high authorities.
During the afternoon, we met with Li Xueju, minister of civil affairs. It is through this ministry that we and other NGOs relate to the Chinese people. He and his staff will consult with John Hardman and Yawei Liu later this week about additional possibilities for our Center's involvement. We later pursued with the former Minister of Culture and now chairman of a China-based NGO, Liu Zhongde, the possibility of participating with the Chinese government in a global health forum late next year.
Our last evening in Beijing was spent with Terry Adamson and his associates in celebrating the publication of National Geographic magazine in China. I was able to help them get approval from the government, and was glad to join in the event. During the ceremonies they gave substantial financial contributions to our Center and pledged the allocation of office space for our use in central Beijing.
Before leaving for San Francisco Friday morning, I met with the publishers of my books in China and with the staff from the Beijing Center of Policy Research who work with Yawei on our Center's China projects.
During our second Friday, 12/7, (because of crossing the International Date Line) we visited San Francisco to attend our granddaughter Sarah Carter's doctoral thesis seminar in neuroscience. She made a superb presentation, was cross-examined by advisory professors, and was awarded her new degree before we returned to Plains.