Hu’s Visit Offers Hope For Stronger Ties

Chinese President Hu Jintao is being welcomed to the United States with a state dinner at the White House tonight. His four-day state visit is being viewed by both the U-S and China as an opportunity to improve strained relations between the two nations. Host Michel dicusses Hu's visit and its implications for stronger ties, with a panel of Chinese-American community leaders.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

With Haiti's presidential elections still undecided, the country's former leader, Jean Claude Duvalier, makes a sudden appearance after a quarter century in exile. Why did he come back? And will he be held accountable for abuses committed during his 15-year reign? We'll try to find out later in the program.

But, first, Hu Jintao is in the U.S. He is the president of the world's more populous country, and he is the guest of honor at a state dinner at the White House this evening. An honor that President Bush did not extend when Hu visited in 2006. President Obama hosted a welcoming ceremony earlier today.

President BARACK OBAMA: The United States welcomes China's rise as a strong, prosperous and successful member of the community of nations.

MARTIN: Beyond talk of trade and geopolitics, part of Hu's mission this week seems to be to try to boost American public opinion about his country and leadership. There's new outreach toward Americans of Chinese heritage, especially those with business ties to China.

We wanted to get Chinese American perspective on this trip, so we've invited a diverse group to share their thoughts. Joining us are Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership based in New York. He was part of that welcome ceremony today, and he's with us in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Z.J. Tong is founder and president of the Chinese Cultural Institute in Chicago. He joins us from member station WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio in Chicago.

And, also, Anni Chung, CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly in the San Francisco Bay Area. And she's with us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to you all. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. WELLINGTON CHEN (Executive Director, Chinatown Partnership, New York): Thank you, Michel.

Ms. ANNIE CHUNG (President and CEO, Self-Help for the Elderly, San Francisco): Thank you, Michel.

Mr. Z.J. TONG (Founder and President, Chinese Cultural Institute, Chicago): Thank you.

MARTIN: So, I wanted to ask each of you, Wellington, you actually participated in the welcoming ceremony, what are your personal feelings about the president's coming? And what do you think is the significance of his trip?

Mr. CHEN: I think the significance is to inform the public and have a deeper understanding and really challenge each other to have a better communication, a better appreciation of each other's ideas, culture, history and put it in the proper context.

MARTIN: Z.J. Tong, how do you perceive this trip? Why do you think it matters?

Mr. TONG: I think it's very important because the two countries today is so interconnected with each other - business wise, culturally, governmental relations. It's important that the business community communicate with each other, the general public communicate with each other, but it's also very important for the top leaders of the two countries to build a trust between themselves. And this will ultimately help the bilateral relationships between the United States and China.

MARTIN: And why do you think that matters?

Mr. TONG: Because to Chinese, trust is very important, but it's very difficult to build. And it takes time. With these personal visits of United States president to China or Chinese president to the U.S., when they talk face to face, they get a better understanding what the other persons are thinking.

MARTIN: Anni Chung, can I ask you a slightly different question?

Ms. CHUNG: Yes, of course.

MARTIN: I know that you travel to China about once a year to visit your family. And so you have, I think - you know, you're back and forth a lot. There are some Americans who think that the U.S. is entirely too understanding of the Chinese position, particularly on matters of human rights. I'm just interested in your perspective on that. Do you think that that's a fair criticism?

Ms. CHUNG: I think China is a huge country. And being a Chinese American in the Bay Area, but also born and raised in Hong Kong, I feel very proud of the heritage. So, answering your question that whether President Obama is pressing hard enough, we read from the papers that although the president is looking forward to President Hu's visit, but yet a lot of his cabinet secretaries are making very strong remarks and criticisms against China. So, in a way, I'm not sure what the Americans think of China at this point.

MARTIN: Wellington Chen, I'm curious about your perspective on this as well. Do you sometimes feel, as a Chinese American, sort of conflicted about the image you think China has in this country? I mean, on the one hand, there are many Chinese Americans who don't support the regime. On the other hand, there is a sense of pride in the culture, in the development. I just wondered if you'd pick up on that.

Mr. CHEN: You know, I'd like to take a deeper and a broader perspective and take a step backwards. If you take the look of the history of China in the context of its thousands of years of history, then you will get a slightly different take. Chinese, due to its hardship and history of turmoil, has never enjoyed a great period of peace. And so the word stability from certain perspective becomes a much more of an acceptable tradeoff to some.

And so I think that from the historical perspective that China has never had any great period of peace other than the few hundred years of the Tang Dynasty. If you take it in the broader context of the history of the time of what we stand for, the difficulty of just feeding people.

I think there's a - there will be more - this is the way I hope that the dialogue will deepen, rather than the finger pointing. And I think that both sides have so much to gain from a broader perspective, broader issues, rather than just the single issue that we're driving here.

MARTIN: Mr. Tong, can we hear from you?

Mr. TONG: Yes. Talking about the human rights issue, I would agree with Wellington, regarding the historical perspective. You know, I was born and raised in China. I came to this country when I was 26, 12 years ago, and over this long past 30 years period of time, China has grown significantly, economically. And there are a lot of improvements in China. And in China, yes, the political reform lagged behind, but it's also important that if the political reform means sacrifice of millions of people's lives, then that takes to develop. We want more stability and slow improvement rather than rapid improvement.

MARTIN: We're talking about the visit by the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, with a diverse group of three Chinese Americans, Wellington Chen, who's from New York. He's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Z.J. Tong is from Chicago. And Anni Chung is from San Francisco. I'd like to ask each of you in the couple of minutes that we have left, what would you most hope would arise from this visit? Wellington Chen, I'll start with you.

Mr. CHEN: I think rather than going back, I think we should go forward. I look forward to the day where we start to create green jobs. And China is overcapacity in terms of solar panels. How can we leverage this opportunity to get the solar panels here at a reasonable cost, for example, and help reduce our energy dependency? The water issue is a global issue and it's going to be a number one issue, whether it's in America, it's in China, it's in the Far East.

And so, let's start with the common ground issues rather than the divisive issues. And I think that we have always can go for the ideal what if of the world. But give it time.

MARTIN: Anni Chung? What are your thoughts about this? What do you hope will arise from this visit?

Ms. CHUNG: Just a simple word, and that is friendship. I hope the two men will find a common ground to communicate and really build this bridge through a lot of Chinese Americans that are here to build a bridge with them.

MARTIN: Mr. Tong, what do you most hope will arise from this visit?

Mr. TONG: You know, I'm very excited that the two top leaders of the two countries are meeting and talking, communicating directly with each other. And China and the U.S., as I mentioned earlier in the show, that they are so interconnected nowadays. They should have a strategic partnership with each other, because there are so many issues in the world today that cannot be dealt with without cooperation between China and the United States.

And from a cultural specialist perspective as I - I do cross-cultural training all the time, where it's important for the two people to keep a more direct communication and to keep talking with each other and build a trust so that when issues come up, they can, from the top level, they can pick up the phone and call each other and like an old friend type of thing to talk to each other.

MARTIN: Can I ask you a question, Mr. Tong, since you raised that point about the cross-cultural communication thing? I'm sort of contrasting the perspective of the group that we have with us here and other Chinese Americans with whom we speak, and I'm thinking in contrast to the relationship that many Cuban Americans want this country to have with Cuba. I mean, now, you know, 50 years after the embargo there's some talk about, you know, lifting the embargo.

But there are many, many people in the United States who really do believe that this government should have nothing to say to the Castro regime until communism has fallen. But on the whole, I get the impression that Chinese Americans have a very different perspective. That even if they oppose communism, left the regime for all these reasons, have differences with the regime, they still are much more in favor of dialogue. And I was curious why you think that is.

Mr. TONG: Chinese people, a lot of times, when they talk, the communication is very different. Chinese communication is very indirect, where the American communication is more direct. I just read an article saying that, you know, when you communicate with Chinese it's like you're eating a bun with fillings. You eat a couple of bites and then you get what's inside there. And then the Americans' communication is more like a pizza, everything is on top of the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I take your point.

Mr. TONG: Yeah. So, it's important that you talk to them and maybe get some -the deeper meaning of it. And once you can think and talk more with a better understanding, then there is a better way for us to create a better relationship.

MARTIN: So, what would a reset relationship with the U.S. look like?

Mr. TONG: I would hope that from the governmental level, the leaders in the American governments and the general public, as well, see China from a more fair perspective, in a way, to understand China is making improvements. It's trying to be a better country for their own people, as well as a better global citizen.

And it's important, like raising a child. You know, when we see improvement, we need to tell them, okay, great job. And you've made improvement. Not like every time when they made a mistake, like, you only focus on those mistakes. Yes. We need to tell them that things went wrong and needs to be corrected. But when they make improvements and when they are willing to change, that needs to be recognized.

At this point I see a lot of criticism to say the human rights issues and other issues. But the improvement of the human rights issues was not recognized. So the more dialogue, more Americans visiting China to see in their own eyes, will definitely help to improve the relationships between the two countries and ultimately a better relationship between China and the U.S., it's a better world for all of us.

MARTIN: Well, Anni Chung, I'm sorry, I wanted to give Anni Chung a word here. Anni Chung, what do you hope for as part of this reset of U.S.-Chinese relations?

Ms. CHUNG: I think the alternative of China holding a closed door attitude -they have 1.3 billion people, one-sixth of the world population, so we definitely will be in a much better place if we work with China more as a world partner than not having them in any of these dialogues that are going on.

I think we all probably remember the days when we can't send mail, we can't travel, write to China, we don't know how our family and friends in China are doing. We don't want that to ever repeat itself, that part of history.

MARTIN: Anni Chung is the CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was with us from San Francisco. Wellington Chen is the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership. That's based in New York City. He's here in our Washington, D.C. studio. And he actually participated in the welcoming ceremony for President Hu Jintao. Z.J. Tong is the founder and president of the Chinese Cultural Institute in Chicago and he joined us from there. I thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. CHEN: Thank you for inviting us.

Mr. TONG: Thank you so much for inviting us.

Ms. CHUNG: Thanks, Michel.

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