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Beijing May 29, 2002 - A Busy Final Day Ending with Traditional Peking Duck Dinner


By Bob Van Leer

  (BEIJING, CHINA - Wednesday, May 29, 2002) - Today was our last day in China and our guides made the most of it. We met with government officials, toured a newspaper, did sightseeing and shopping and finished off with a traditional Peking duck dinner.

  We met at separate meetings with Ming Wei Zhou, vice minister of Taiwan Affairs and Zheng Zegnang, deputy director, General Department of North American and Oceania Affairs.

  Taiwan really bothers the Chinese. Most of our meetings have been dominated by talk of Taiwan. All agree there is "one China" but who represents China is the question. Chiang Kai-Shek and his party the Kuomintang, lost the war on the mainland to the communists and retreated to the small island of Taiwan off the South China coast. The Korean War complicated the issue and made reunification impossible at the time.

   The fiction was maintained that the Kuomintang was the government of all China until 1971 when the China communist government was accepted as representing China. Taiwan was left in limbo as most governments around the world, including the U. S., recognized mainland China.

  The U. S. keeps a careful ambiguity about Taiwan and sells it huge amounts of war material to the point where the Chinese say Taiwan is the No. 1 arms purchaser in the world and is 20 years ahead of the mainland because Taiwan has a "big brother".

  What's going to happen to Taiwan? Likely nothing unless Taiwan proclaims independence. If this happens, all bets are off. We were told Taiwan is the number one difference between China and the U. S. and should not play that role.

  One speaker said there have been tremendous changes in China, all without social conflict. He said in 1972, decisions for 97% of the economy were made by the government but today less than 3% is. The rest is all market society. Our observation is the government has more influence than that. Private businesses are afraid of offending the government. U. S. money is one of the biggest changes in recent years.

  China is pursuing a market economy and we were told there is no comparison with the former Soviet Union. China is more pragmatic than Russia.

  We were told China can't change overnight. They can't afford social instability in a country of 1.3 billion people. They said there is no single role model in the world that would do for China. They think China is on the right track and they know where are going.

  Where is the Communist Party going to go? The party want to provide: the best of productivity, the best of culture and represent the majority of the people. Human rights and democracy are the paramount coals of the Communist Party, we were told, with a better living standard for Chinese people a priority.

  China is cooperating with the U. S. in containing international terrorism calling the terrorists "the common enemy".

  China is still a developing country with a per capita income of $800 per year and there is a vast difference between cities and rural areas. But 200 million people have been lifted out of poverty in recent years.

  All along our travels, the Chinese people we met expressed their interest in better relations with the U. S.

  We visited the Peoples Daily, the largest newspaper in China with a circulation of over two million. It is owned by the Communist Party. It is all computerized and equipment used looks much like that in the U. S. We were told there are 1500 newspaper companies in China that produce over 2000 newspapers. As far as I could find out, there are no privately-owned newspapers in China, as we understand the term.

  The daily has an internet newspaper. In China, we were told, 33.7 million people browse the internet more than an hour a week, not many for a nation of 1.3 billion.

  We stopped at a zoo and viewed pandas, a large black and white bear-like animal weighing 200-300 pounds as an adult. Pandas are revered by the Chinese but are on the endangered species list. We saw four at the zoo.

  After seeing the pandas, we went to the Xin Shui Market, Called the Silk Alley. But other, mostly clothing, merchandise was available. The market was educational. I never saw silk blue jeans before. There were hundreds of stalls and thousands of people at the market.

  We finished off the day with an excellent Peking duck diner at the "Beijing Qian Meu Quam Jade Roast Duck Restaurant, a favorite of celebrities including George and Barbara Bush and Yasser Arafat.

  We leave very early in the morning to return home. In the 11 years since I was last in Beijing there are some very visible changes. There are more buildings and a lot more going up. Construction cranes are everywhere. Buildings used to have a Chinese flavor, such as a pagoda roof, even on a high-rise building. But this has been abandoned and the new high rise buildings look the same as others anywhere.

  And there are daily traffic jams. Eleven years ago this was a city of bicycles and I thought perhaps bicycles were a real possibility as a means of travel. But the Chinese have more money now than they used to and apparently as soon as they can afford it, the bicycle goes in favor of an automobile.

  There is little evidence of the military round except on embassy row and at critical locations. The revolution is out of sight. There are no billboards highlighting the revolution and rattling swords such as are found in Cuba.

  There are very few pictures of Mao Zedong around. I saw exactly one Mao jacket and cap on an old man on a bicycle.

  Beijing seems to be a city that is out after business. It might be a Communist city, but it sure looks capitalist.

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