Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

Hong Kong Returns to China, Part II

As the formal handover of Hong Kong to China approached, many grew concerned about Beijing’s intentions. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens emigrated in the late 1980s and early 1990s for places like the UK and Vancouver while several came to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong with claims of American citizenship. The event of the formal handover, which took place on June 30-July 1, 1997, was a glitzy affair. The Prince of Wales read a farewell speech on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II; newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and the departing Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten also attended.

Richard Boucher served as Consul General in Hong Kong from 1996-1999. He describes the crush of Congressional delegations and the fear mongering in the American media, which he found especially frustrating when he learned that no one read his cables. Read more

Hong Kong Returns to China, Part I

In September 1982, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went to Beijing to begin a dialogue on the issue of Hong Kong, a small nation that had been a colony of Great Britain for over a century. At issue was the 99-year lease which gave Britain authority over the islands was set to expire in 1997, raising a host of questions on what the future of the territory would look like. In 1984, after two years of negotiations, a Joint Declaration was released in which Britain agreed to cede Hong Kong at the expiration of the lease, while China guaranteed to allow the small nation to maintain an amount of political autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. Read more

Beijing Spring and the Lead-up to Tiananmen Square

The iconic image of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and brutal government crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators is that of the “Tank Man,” the unarmed citizen who, carrying nothing but shopping bags, peacefully blocked the path of tanks sent by the Chinese government to assert control in the days after the crackdown. While the image may lead one to believe that the demonstrations were a short-lived event, in reality the crackdown on June 4, 1989 was the culmination of nearly two months of peaceful protests calling for an end to corruption within the Chinese Communist Party.

The protests began as student-led demonstrations in the aftermath of the death of former General Secretary of the Communist Party Hu Yaobang, considered to be a reformer, who had been deposed by the more hardline elements within the Party leadership. Read more

A U.S.-Chinese Mid-Air Collision and “The Letter of Two Sorries”

A collision in the air, a destroyed Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. ‘spy’ plane forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airbase — mix together to create a maelstrom of chaos and outrage. Add in the fact that the U.S. had accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade just two years earlier and you have the makings of a real diplomatic challenge.

On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter jet some 70 miles off the Chinese island of Hainan. The Chinese jet had actually harassed the EP-3 just days earlier, getting so close that the Chinese pilot held up a piece of paper with his e-mail address, which was visible to the American crew. The collision caused both planes to lose altitude quickly — the Chinese fighter was unable to recover and was killed. Against all odds, the EP-3 somehow rolled out of its nearly inverted dive and managed to limp towards the closest air base without its nose. This airbase, however, was on Hainan, the same site that had sent the downed fighter. Read more

Tiananmen: Another Bump in China’s Road to WTO Accession

Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 Open Door policy unleashed China’s economy beyond its borders through political reforms and regional trade agreements. This led to rapid growth and China’s emergence as a major player in the global economic system. China began the process of negotiating membership in GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, in July 1986, gaining observer status. However, it took fifteen years and changes in its tariff, foreign investment and industrial policies for China to be admitted to GATT’s successor organization, the World Trade Organization (WTO), on December 11, 2001.

The role of the U.S. in China’s bid for accession was complicated by competing priorities: economic security and support for freedom of global commerce vs. defense of human rights. China was among the fasting-growing markets for U.S. goods and services; conversely, imports from China to the U.S. almost doubled from 1996 to 2001. Read more

Laying It Between the Lines: Music Diplomacy in Shanghai

“But if I really say it/ the radio won’t play it/ unless I lay it between the lines.”  This song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary was about rock & roll music, but the same principle was applied in conducting public diplomacy programs in Shanghai at a time of censorship and chilly bilateral relations. China had officials whose job was specifically to guard against “American spiritual pollution,” so overcoming these challenges called for a creative bent.

One way to get around censorship was to convey the message indirectly, by talking about music. Lloyd Neighbors used not only his fluency in Mandarin but also his love of American folk music and jazz to get the message across about U.S. history, society and culture to students eager to listen. Read more

Ping Pong Diplomacy, April 1971 — Opening the Road to China

Following the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, a “Bamboo Curtain,” the Chinese equivalent of Russia’s “Iron Curtain,” was established, closing off China from the non-Communist world. The 1966 Cultural Revolution only served to strengthen the Communist Party’s commitment to isolation from the West. However, by 1971 China was growing desperate for foreign investment while the United States sought an end to the Vietnam War as well as ways to increase its leverage vis-a-vis  the Soviet Union. These diplomatic objectives led to President Richard Nixon’s historic opening to China.

But before his February 1972 to Peking there was ping pong diplomacy. Sports had long been a diplomatic tool for the Chinese under the slogan “Friendship First, Competition Second.” Thus, on April 6, 1971, the Chinese national ping-pong team invited the American team to visit China while the two teams were at the World Championships in Nagoya, Japan. Read more

What Goes on Behind the Scenes When POTUS Comes to Town

One of the most daunting and stressful tasks a Foreign Service Officer abroad can face is supporting a visit by POTUS, the President of the United States. Concerns about security, cultural sensitivities, press coverage and political effectiveness turn such events into an all-encompassing, embassy-wide obsession from the day the idea of the visit is floated until “Wheels Up” when Air Force One departs. There’s plenty of drama, bruised egos, hurry-up-and-wait, and silliness in the planning and implementation of such a visit. The outcome can make or break a career.

A mark of a great FSO is the ability to support a presidential visit while maintaining a sense of courtesy and good humor, especially when demands from everyone from the pre-advance team to the press pool verge on the ridiculous.  Lloyd Neighbors showed his mettle when he was in charge of press arrangements for President George W. Bush’s October 18-21 visit to Shanghai for the APEC conference in 2001. Read more

A Black Day in May for Malaysia

Malaysia has a long history of racial tension, dating back to the influx of Chinese workers in the 19th century, and which was exacerbated after Malaya gained independence from the UK in 1957. Constant tension simmered between the native Malay population and the more economically powerful Chinese population, which erupted into violence after the election of May 10, 1969. The governing Alliance won less than half of the popular vote and while it had a majority in Parliament, its number of seats was significantly reduced. The Opposition, despite their showing, claimed “victory.” Some Malays felt threatened and called for a procession; Malays were brought from the rural areas into Kuala Lumpur, which was a predominantly Chinese city. Thousands of Malays, some of them armed, arrived to join the parade.

On May 13, the day of the procession, fist fights broke out between a group of Malays and Chinese bystanders who taunted them, which then escalated into bottle and stone throwing. The Malays burned cars and shops, killed and looted in the Chinese areas. The violence quickly spread throughout the city. Over the next few days, hundreds of people were killed. Read more

Two Shades of Red: the Sino-Soviet Split

After the 1949 defeat of the Chinese Nationalists at the hands of Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army, the newly-proclaimed People’s Republic of China (PRC) established friendly relations with the Soviet Union. The fact that the Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union shared a Marxist-Leninist ideology kept the two countries closely-aligned soon after the PRC was founded. But as China gained more power vis-à-vis its neighbors, trouble was just over the horizon.

The beginning of the 1960s heralded a new phase in Sino-Soviet relations. Ideology was at the crux of the issue, with China and the Soviet Union both vying for the title of leader of the communist world. China’s economic reforms, which paved the way for a détente with the United States as well as greater participation in the global economy, were anathema to the Soviets during the Cold War. Read more