By Neenah Payne
Discussion of China now evokes only images of the coronavirus crisis. However, that will hopefully pass soon – like the SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, and Ebola “pandemics”! Then the world will need to know how China is changing the world.
My previous article, “When China Rules The World!” shows the rapid rise of China in the last 50 years and the growing decline of the West after the 2008 crisis. However, most Americans are probably not aware of the many ways in which China is setting new world standards as the US spends billions of dollars on the War on Terror after almost 20 years and its ongoing destruction of the Middle East.
China is surging ahead now with its high-speed bullet trains, education, eradication of poverty, The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aka The New Silk Road, massive investment in infrastructure all across Africa that is making friends of the 55 African nations, and the growing Chinese student enrollment in the US.
Perhaps one of the most subtle ways China is establishing its lead now is through the quiet diplomacy of President Xi Jinping. Trump often takes a belligerent stance toward other countries and world leaders and has called Xi an “enemy”. However, Xi refers to Trump as a “friend” and he is quietly winning over one country after another – including Britain, one of the reasons for China’s “Century of Humiliation.” As Xi was welcomed royally in Britain, he invested billions of dollars and introduced a Chinese bond. It is a new day when the “developing world” is investing in the developed world!
President Xi is also quietly befriending Americans from students in Washington state to farmers in Iowa. When Xi visited Lincoln High School in Takoma, Washington, he spoke of his long-term connection to the city. When he announced that he was inviting 100 students to visit China, he got a standing ovation. Those students will become ambassadors for China with their families, neighbors, and friends. Their trip will be covered in the Tacoma press and the city will be the envy of surrounding cities and states.
When Xi visited Iowa, it was again a return visit and he spent time in the home of friends he had made on his first trip as a student years earlier. During his visit, Xi signed the largest soybean deal every made in a single visit. It is hard to focus on competing with an “enemy” who is such a good friend!
Britain’s State Welcome For Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “super” state visit to the UK explains that President Xi’s visit was the first by a Chinese president to the UK in a decade. Queen Elizabeth rolled out the red carpet for the state visit of President Xi in 2015. Queen Elizabeth II welcomed the Chinese president at Horse Guards Parade in London. Xi inspected the guard of honor with the Duke of Edinburgh. The president joined the royal family for a state carriage procession to Buckingham Palace for a state banquet.
The two countries agreed to build a global partnership for the 21st century. About 40 billion pounds in deals were struck including the landmark Hinkley Point nuclear power project in southwest England. That marked the first deal between China and a developed country in a major strategic industry. The two sides made headway in financial cooperation. China agreed to issue RMB sovereign bonds in London, the first of its kind outside China. China’s relationship with the UK could provide a template for China’s relationship with the European Union. President Xi called on Britain to join China in establishing a new golden era.
Given that Britain just returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, ending China’s “Century of Humiliation”, this resplendent welcome of President Xi helped heal those old wounds. Perhaps more importantly, it established China as a global leader now surpassing the British Empire. For China to have the resources to finance Great Britain’s nuclear power project establishes China as a dominant power. For China to issue bonds in London means that China is offering the British people the opportunity to make money by investing in China! How the tables have turned!
President Xi’s style of “Soft Power” and diplomacy is winning friends for China around the world.
President Xi’s Visit to Lincoln High School USA
President Xi may not find it as easy to establish warm relations with President Trump as he has with Queen Elizabeth. However, he has found another way to connect very warmly to America. The video “China’s President Xi Jinping visits Lincoln High School” shows Xi’s visit in Tacoma, Washington. Xi was accompanied by his famous wife Peng Liyuan, a Chinese folk singer. The high school choir sang a song for which Madame Peng is famous and she stood to take a bow when that was announced.
President Xi took the stage after the choir’s performance and announced the gift of many books about China that he had donated to the school. He said he had also given the school a ping pong table. When President Xi announced that he was inviting 100 students from the high school to visit China, the audience stood and roared its enthusiastic approval! Of course, that visit will have to be postponed now until the coronavirus crisis is fully resolved!
The 2012 book Together They Hold Up the Sky: The Story of China’s XI Jinping and Peng Liyuan says:
Very few Chinese names have become, as Shakespeare’s Henry V put it: “Familiar in his mouth as household words” to many westerners. Mao, Confucius, Yao Ming, Jackie Chan — there aren’t many. But that is about to change. China’s in the midst of its once-in-a-decade political power transition. The Chinese “princeling” Xi Jinping seems set to assume the Presidency of China in March 2013.
Peng Liyuan (pronounced ‘Pung Lee-yahn’) has been a household name in China for thirty years. Often known as “the Singing General”, Peng Liyuan is a glamorous and gifted folk singer and operatic soprano as well as being a Major General in the People’s Liberation Army. She is instantly recognizable throughout China and enjoys the adoration of the Chinese people. She is also “the Daughter of the Party” and extremely influential and well-connected regarding politics and the arts in China.
Together, Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan are the new “power couple” on the world stage.
The book adds:
A Chinese official without hint of scandal in today’s circumstances is very rare, so rare that Xi Jinping runs the risk of becoming a mysterious man as a result. So it is with his wife, Peng Liyuan, a top celebrity singer also without any scandal or rumor. Even with her huge name, she has never made a single commercial or endorsement, and nor is there even a slight stain on her long and very public career. Both of them should make us wonder, how did they do it? A famous, beautiful and glamorous singer and a son of one of the highest ranking officials become a power couple, live largely separate lives publicly, and end up leading China – nothing could arouse more interest than their stories! For all these reasons they deserve to be in the focus of the media for some time to come.
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The Mayor of Tacoma, Washington welcomed President Xi and Madame Peng for their second visit to the city after 21 years. In 1994, Tacoma established a sister-city relationship with Fuzhou, China, the capital of the Fujian province. Tacoma has hosted more than 30 delegations for educational, cultural, and business exchanges. In his remarks, Xi explained that he came to Takoma more than 20 years ago as part of a delegation from Fujian. He was the Party Secretary of Fuzhou and witnessed the signing of the sister-cities agreement. He later became governor of Fujian province.
President Xi’s willingness to take time out from his busy schedule restoring China, building the New Silk Road, building infrastructure all across Africa and meeting with heads of state around the world to meet at a high school is part of what makes him an exceptionally warm global leader. The fact that Xi has such a long-term connection to Tacoma and Fujian made the visit even more special. Xi is showing a commitment to a collaborative relationship with America.
President Xi Visits Old Friends in Iowa
President Xi studied agriculture in Iowa. In April 1985, Xi arrived in Muscatine for two weeks with a Chinese delegation studying farming technology. The future Chinese leader got a first-hand look at how American agriculture. Doyle Tubandt, president of Muscatine Foods Corporation, recalled how Xi discussed globalization, its scope then unimaginable to many Americans. Tubandt marveled at today’s global economy. His own company now exports food and pet products to China. He escorted Xi on a tour of a corn processing plant. Tubandt had kept a tin of black tea that Xi gave him as a memento of the visit. After all these years, the tin is preserved half full.
In 2012, Tubandt was one of 14 people invited to a private dinner with Xi at the home of Sara Lande. They had all met Xi on his first trip. “You were the first group of Americans I came into contact with,” Xi told his Iowa friends. “To me, you are America.” Xi’s visit was a big deal for Muscatine, a small eastern Iowa town known for farming, the largest Heinz plant outside of Pittsburgh, and factories that used to spit out billions of mother-of-pearl buttons before the refinement of plastic.
As Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, now President-elect’s Donald Trump’s pick for China ambassador, put it:
This is the biggest thing to hit Muscatine since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad raised their glasses in a toast at a State Dinner. Chris Steinbach, former editor of The Muscatine Journal, said:
It’s obviously a pretty big deal. You never know what will come as a result of this kitchen-table diplomacy. When you get the opportunity to meet somebody in their home or in a private setting, you get to know them differently than at a state dinner. Clearly that worked on Mr. Xi when he was here 27 years ago.
That kind of one-on-one relationship made an impression on Xi. China VP Xi Jinping’s nostalgic Iowa visit says that in 2012 when Xi was still Vice President, he looked forward to visiting the home of Cynthia and Dick McClean whom he had visited on his first visit to Muscatine, Iowa to study livestock in 1985. Xi asked to see the McCleans and about 17 other people whom he had met on his first trip.
Iowa is a direct beneficiary of China’s booming economy. Over the last decade, China’s purchases of Iowa’s products have skyrocketed! In 2000-2010, Iowa enjoyed a 1200% increase in exports to China. China buys soybeans, pork, farm machinery, and other products from Iowa. The numbers are staggering. China buys 25% of American soybeans. In 2011, the Chinese market surpassed Canada to become the top destination for US farm exports. During his visit, Xi signed the largest soybean deal every made in a single visit.
“Xi Comes to Iowa” shows Xi’s trips to Iowa in 1985 and 2012 and his visit to the home of old friends.
Chinese Enrollment Surges in American Universities
Chinese students are reshaping the U.S. education system. “Chinese student enrollment surges at University of Iowa” says that cutbacks in state funding encouraged US colleges like the University of Iowa to recruit students from China to bring in out-of-state tuition. In 2007, there were about 100 Chinese undergraduate students. By 2015, there were close to 3,000. Because China’s economy has quadrupled in the last decade, more Chinese parents can afford to send their kids to an American university. The video says that in the prior year, there was a huge explosion of anti-Chinese feelings on Facebook and Twitter. The school is trying to help the Chinese students acclimate.
“Too Many International Students in the U.S.?” says that at some schools, about 20% of the class is now from overseas. Since foreign students usually pay full tuition, that helps schools on tight budgets. However, many Americans worry that the influx of international students is depriving qualified American youths of slots in top schools. Many California families say their kids can’t get in. The acceptance rate for in-state students has dropped in recent years and some locals feel misrepresented.
One Chinese Student’s Journey to the U.S. explains that Chinese students who attend American universities avoid taking the “gaokao”, China’s ultra-competitive college entrance exam. Increasingly, China’s expanding middle class is opting out of the competitive educational system. From 2008-2014, the number of students taking the exam dropped 10%. During that same period, the number of Chinese students in US schools more than tripled.
English has become a compulsory subject from Primary Three in China since 2003 and is gradually being introduced even earlier into the curriculum in many schools. This highlights the official importance of English in both primary school education and society.
Since many Chinese are now also studying in the US, a growing number of Chinese are fluent in English and are familiar with American culture. Because China has such a large population, millions of Chinese can move around the world to live. Those people may become citizens of their adopted countries and the growing Chinese population will increasingly influence elections. In the US, some Chinese-Americans are assuming elective office or are being appointed to roles in government. Andrew Yang, a Taiwanese-American, is now campaigning for the US presidency!
In his talk “When China Rules The World,” Dr. Martin Jacques warned the West not to assume that English will always be the world’s lingua franca – and to learn Mandarin! However, few Americans speak Chinese or have lived in — or even visited — China.
Top image credit: ING
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