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Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Beijing, Nanjing, and Sanya,China, Dec. 11-17, 2012

December 18, 2012

Responding to an invitation from the new leaders of China and to pursue projects of The Carter Center, we made what lately has become an annual visit. In addition to Rosalynn, John Hardman, Yawei Liu and staff members, we enjoyed having Brent and Diane Slay, Bob McKinney, Shelley Barr, and Marni and Dick Waterfield with us.

We learned on arrival in Beijing that Vice-Premier Li Keqiang would like to meet with me the following morning. After March he will be the premier, second to President and Party Chairman Xi Jinping in the new government, and they are likely to retain these positions for the next 10 years. The other five members of the Politburo Standing Committee might be replaced after five years.

Li was hospitable, eloquent in English, and relaxed in discussing past developments and pending challenges in China. Although he joked that I asked too many questions, he tried to answer them all. Political reform in China was being addressed primarily on the subject of combating corruption, and we reviewed our Center's "open government" project that would be discussed the next day at Peking University. He agreed on the importance of the massive village elections that were first authorized under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and monitored by our Center for almost 15 years. We have operated an active Website to report results of village elections and more generic consequences of this experiment with direct voting, universal registration, secret ballots, and limited terms in office. I pointed out that the website was taken off the air last April and hoped that he might help us correct any problems.

We also discussed the tendency of U.S. presidential candidates to blame China for our economic and other problems and other seemingly anti-China acts, but agreed that the mutual benefits of a cooperative relationship had always reduced the rhetoric after election time. I suggested that China and the U.S. could inspire and transform the world with a partnership to deal with global warming. He expressed full support for recommendations from the early Tokyo Round and the more recent environmental conference in Doha, Qatar.

He said as we were leaving that he would like to visit The Carter Center and also our hometown in Plains. Some staff members commented that he would be the most likely top official next to visit our country.

I then spoke to a group assembled at the European Union headquarters about our multiple programs in Africa and how the lessons we have learned might be applied to China's political and economic investments in Africa. This is a Carter Center project to comply with a request from the Chinese government.

After a team briefing at the U.S. embassy we had photos, and Rosalynn and I spoke to the large assembly of American and Chinese staff. After afternoon meetings with the chairman of telecommunications company ZTE and other donors, I returned to the embassy for an emotional meeting with Chinese Christian leaders from a broad spectrum of churches. They report an amazing growth in the number of believers. I described in a speech to them how Deng Xiaoping had honored a promise to me to authorize previously forbidden distribution of Bibles and to guarantee freedom of worship. I compared subsequent Christian growth in China to experiences in the earliest churches.

Wednesday, Dec. 12: I spoke at Peking University to a conference of prominent academic and political leaders about the advantages of openness (transparency) in government. Five years ago the Central Committee issued a directive on the subject that has had some positive effect, but there are many exemptions, and potential benefits are not being realized. I reminded them that Deng Xiaoping had called for "reform and opening up" and that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang had reiterated the same commitment. There needs to be a clear law to replace the directive with minimal exemptions and a clear enforcement mechanism, and the conference later endorsed these principles.

My next speech was to a conference of leaders on "Building New U.S.-China Relations." During a Q&A session they commented on the harsh rhetoric during the recent U.S. campaign, our new "Asia" policy with marines in Australia, Congressional committee action against electronics firms ZTE and Huawei, trade complaints to WTO, veto of a wind farm in Oregon as a security risk, and U.N. Security Council differences re Libya, Syria and Iran. A recent Pew poll showed that in the last two years, Chinese approval of the U.S. government has dropped from 68 percent to 39 percent. Despite this, I emphasized that more strategic and long-range commitments re peace, economic interdependence, and multiple relations involving businesses, hundreds of thousands of students, and other private citizens would insure continuing accommodation of inevitable differences and basically friendly relations. The Carter Center has always promoted mutual understanding and potential cooperation on major issues like global warming. I was told that concerns re America's antagonism were expressed more forcefully after I left the meeting. An evening banquet included Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi plus Hugo Shong, CH Tung & other Carter Center donors.

Thursday, Dec. 13: In a meeting with Vice Minister Yu Hongjun of the International Department of the Communist Party of China, he repeated concerns about negative trends in U.S.-China relations, including recent U.S. criticism of China re the DPRK satellite launch. He asked if The Carter Center and the think tank of the China Center on Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS) could form a working group to improve U.S.-China relations. This followed the same requests from both General Secretary Xi and Vice Premier Li Keqiang in our private meetings. I pointed out that we had similar problems with Japan when I was president and had established a group of "wise men" (three on a side) who met frequently, advised me and the prime minister privately, and had notable success in building understanding. We had an extensive discussion of North Korea and its relationship with China, South Korea, and America. Representatives of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences explained that political reform might involve an increase in the portion (now 10 percent) of leadership positions in the Communist Party that involve competitive election.

My meeting with Xi Jinping was both relaxed and cordial. I was told it was not necessary to mention our website again. We reminisced about previous meetings, and he was quite interested in our projects in China and my reports on visits to North Korea, and seemed less concerned about strains in U.S. relations than other Chinese we had met. I expressed my hope of bilateral cooperation re global warming.

We then attended an extravagant banquet hosted by the Sun Culture Foundation, which has been instrumental in promoting philanthropy. I spoke to the group of wealthy Chinese and participated in a panel discussion led by Ms. Yang Lan.

Friday, Dec. 14: We flew to Nanjing, where we toured the impressive memorial to the 1937 massacre by Japanese troops. The benevolent role of Christian missionaries is strongly displayed, and in my speech at the evening banquet I emphasized this and the Flying Tigers as reminders of the historical friendship between our people. The next morning I helped unveil a statue of Dr. W.E. Macklin and his wife, who were missionaries from Canada and the United States who founded the original hospital here in 1892. I repeated my remarks about ancient friendship in the following dedication of an enormous new Drum Tower Hospital, which is associated with the University of Nanjing, which awarded me an honorary doctorate at the ceremony.

We then flew to Sanya, on Hainan Island, for our last events. Sunday morning I gave the keynote speech at the Sanya International Forum on "China's Place in the World" and was then interviewed by Wang Boming. Mr. Wang is chief executive of the Caijin Corps, which has more than 20 magazines, and is a director of the China Association for International Friendly Contact. I recounted Deng Xiaoping's informing me of his planned incursion into Vietnam, and my objection and then my request for it to be brief. This occurred in 1979 and lasted only two weeks, and was the last military action by China – quite different from U.S. experiences. The Q&A session involved a global shift toward multi-polar leadership (to replace America's dominant role). We then drove to another beautiful seaside resort and broke ground for a new conference center and hotel.

The trip was informative, enjoyable and productive in developing new friends for The Carter Center. My working with Deng Xiaoping to establish diplomatic relations gives us special status in China. There is an impressive consensus among political and academic leaders about China's role in the world. They are totally confident about their status, assume its continuing growth but wish to minimize publicity about it, and emphasize China's historical commitment to peace and non-intervention in the affairs of other nations. They acknowledge concern about economic and social inequities among citizens, how to sustain economic progress at a moderate level, and how to reform their political system without endangering the status of the Communist Party. Their claim of sovereignty over the disputed islands is firm, but they insist that these issues can be resolved bilaterally with other claimant nations. They are remarkably hospitable and especially proud of the massive exchange of students with foreign universities.

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