Carter Reflects on 30 Years of US2014-China Relations


(APN) ATLANTA — Former US President Jimmy Carter discussed the past, present, and future of the relationship between the United States and China, during a forum Thursday night, December 03, 2009, at The Carter Center.

In 1978, Carter announced the establishment of US diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, a move that has since opened up many new trade opportunities for both nations.

Carter said when he arrived in Washington, DC, the United States and China had “a very disturbing relationship” because of entrenched alliances.

“We had a treaty with Taiwan that said we had to provide them with military assistance and recognize them as a free state,” he said.

When Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping visited Carter in early 1979, the leaders came to an agreement after “tedious, slow, and sometimes frustrating” negotiations.

“The United States agreed we would provide one year of defense equipment and say Taiwan is part of China,” Carter said. “[Xiaoping] would say the United States could not provide any offensive weapons to Taiwan and I would agree and that’s what we did.”

Madame Li Xiaolin, Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, recalled the announcement as a happy one.

“It totally changed my image of the American people,” she said. “Maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a thousand years, the relationship between the United States and China would still be considered the most important [international alliance].”

Dr. Yawei Liu was “astounded” by the news as an 18-year-old college student living in China.

“I thought there was something wrong with [Carter] or our great leader,” he said. “I thought there was no need for the countries to come together.”

Now Liu is the director of The Carter Center’s China Program and has worked with the organization to monitor elections in China since 1997.

“The thought that China was going to open up its education circles was unthinkable,” Dr. Mary Brown Bullock, a visiting distinguished professor of China studies at Emory University, said. “It wasn’t just a political relationship. Clearly you envisioned from the beginning a broad and open relationship with China.”

Carter argued so much hangs in the balance based on how the two nations interact.

“This is the most important bilateral relationship on which world peace and future economic progress depends,” he said. “What really matters on this issue of climate change is what is decided in Washington and what is decided in Beijing.”

Panelists acknowledged the relationship can sometimes be awkward and laced with suspicion based on China’s human rights track record, its increasing economic influence on the global market, and its significant interest in U.S. debt.

Carter said recent incidents at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib have tarnished the United States’ image as a human rights leader.

“We don’t have a right to preach to others,” he said. “[The United States and China] have very different opinions on what constitutes human rights.”

Carter argued that while US citizens would argue everyone has a right to free speech, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of religion, Chinese citizens might argue the right to education, healthcare, and good homes.

“We have to learn how to be disagreeable without getting to the point of estrangement,” he said.

“As far as the Chinese leaders are concerned, we’re not going to challenge the US,” Liu said. “The intent is to improve each other.”

“It’s not so easy for us to make economic progress in the last 30 years,” Xiaolin said. “We try to change our country but it still takes time. We don’t want to compete with the United States because we really need to work together.”

Bullock noted that 70 percent of Americans feel economically threatened by China.

“People feel there is something unfair happening out there now,” she said. “People feel China has already become a threat to us.”

“I don’t think we need to fear China,” Carter said. “They are growing so rapidly it is a matter of us catching up.”

As far as military fears, Carter reminded the panel the United States military budget is larger than that of every other country combined.

“We need to make sure we don’t come into a conflict with China that we can’t solve diplomatically,” he argued.

Liu believes the suspicion on both sides has to do with “exceptionalism” attitudes, that one country is fundamentally right and better than the other.

“The key here is to find common ground so the two sides can get closer together,” he said.

Carter said the United States should start making adjustments if it does not want to fall too far behind China or become beholden to them because of mounting debt.

“An average Chinese citizen saves 50 percent of family income,” he noted. “We save nothing in this country.”

Carter said the United States has mounted “an alarming rate of federal deficits” while China has managed to collect many surpluses.

“They have the freedom now to invest,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to do some self-correcting to keep up.”

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Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at

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