China 2006

Some Observations

A Split Inside China

The leaders I met with were very frank about a growing domestic problem – the disparity between urban and rural residents. A Chinese member of congress told me that many people from rural areas are working in the city and then returning to their hometowns out in the country. She called these people "floaters" because they float in and out of Beijing. While in the city, they are exposed to a better life. They return home and are frustrated by the limited opportunities in rural areas. This has taken on new intensity in the past year with a few organized protests in rural communities. The Chinese say they want everyone to have access to a better life but don’t seem to know how to deal with the social problems this entails.


China will host the Olympics in 2008, and Chinese leaders are busy trying to prepare the country to host visitors from all around the world. Their biggest challenge seems to be infrastructure. They need to build new roads and facilities to accommodate the world, and they know the world will judge China by what is seen at the games.


In Beijing, the smog is so bad that you can't see 15 feet in front of you. In Guilin, we saw one example of what the Chinese are facing. The Li River has been one of the most polluted sites in southern China. Leaders there told us of their efforts to begin to clean it up and the investments they were making to face the many environmental challenges in front of them.


China's demand for energy is affecting energy prices around the world and China's environment. Between 1995 and 2005, China’s energy consumption grew 80 percent. Chinese leaders are aggressively investing in areas like fusion, but they know they have a long way to go.

In the meantime, China’s energy demands have led the country to seek energy partnerships with countries like Sudan, Iran and Burma that have questionable human rights practices and pose other foreign policy challenges to the United States and the world. We spent a lot of time talking about energy – and its consequences – in our meetings.

Women in China

As the only woman from the United States delegation, I particularly enjoyed talking to the two women members of the Chinese delegation.

The first was Fang Xin who is an expert on energy.

The second was Xin Chunying, who is the NPC Vice Chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission. Her expertise is law, and in particular the laws surrounding Intellectual Property Rights and the Internet - two areas of special interest to Washington State and our high tech industry.

Ms. Xin told me that the role of women lawyers in China has changed in the past few years. (She herself had attended Harvard and Yale before returning to China and working in government there). In the past, women lawyers were referred to by the Chinese word for "turtles" – because women lawyers would have a long and productive life. But now a different word is being used – one that means "cabbage" – because women lawyers are now facing a lot of competition from male lawyers and are seeing their prospects slip.

Generational Shifts?

Many of China's senior leaders are of an older generation. Seniority carries tremendous weight in Chinese culture and government. On this trip, I noticed that the Chinese made a point of inviting some of their younger leaders to our bilateral meetings because they are trying to develop a new generation of leadership.

Setting an Example – Two Parties Working Together

For part of the trip, I got to co-chair the U.S. delegation and had a chance to show our hosts how two different political parties can work together.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) led the U.S. and China Interparliamentary Conference Delegationbipartisan group of nine US Senators to China as the American co-chairs of the U.S.-China Interparliamentary Group. Halfway through the trip, I served as the Democratic leader of the trip and jointly led the U.S. Senate delegation with Senator Stevens during all of the subsequent events and meetings with our Chinese counterparts.

Senator Stevens has a long and unique history with China, having served as part of the Flying Tigers in China during World War II. His service during that time period was widely acknowledged during our trip, which gave him the gravitas to bring up many difficult subjects and be accorded the respect necessary for these difficult conversations.

During most of our meetings, Senator Stevens would speak and then turn the floor over to me as the top Democrat on the trip. During several meetings, I spoke on behalf of the entire U.S. delegation. I think we demonstrated to the Chinese, whose government is run by one party, how two different political parties can work together and respect each other.

Personal Relationships

On the trip I got a chance to reconnect with an old friend in the Chinese government. For me, he is an example of the importance of personal relationships in dealing with other governments. I first learned this lesson during my last trip to China in the late 1990s when I experienced a very personal loss.

In 1997, I traveled to China with a group of Washington state leaders. While there, I received a call through the U.S. Embassy letting me know that my father had become very ill and had suddenly passed away. After returning to my hotel room, I received a visit from a Chinese official named Yang Jiechi. Mr. Yang expressed his heartfelt and sincere condolences to me on the passing of my father. This was not a bureaucrat going through the motions. This was a very human and touching moment that meant a great deal to me at a difficult time. In fact, it was the most human moment I had ever experienced in a foreign country, and I have never forgotten it.

I did not hear from Mr. Yang again until he became the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. four years later. Like the first moment we met, the event that brought us together this time was also tragic. In April 2001, a U.S. Navy plane was intercepted by a Chinese aircraft in international waters outside China. After making a series of very close passes, the Chinese plane hit the American plane, killing the Chinese pilot and requiring the U.S. plane to make an emergency landing in China. The Chinese held the American crew, stationed at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, for many days.

This incident set off an international confrontation and created an incredible amount of tension between the U.S. and China. After watching with frustration the difficulty our country was having negotiating with the Chinese and the demands and denunciations being issued by members of Congress, all to no avail, I decided to invite the Chinese Ambassador to my office for a face to face meeting to discuss the situation. When now-Ambassador Yang and I sat down, we reflected on his visit to my hotel room four years prior, and because of the relationship we had established then, were able to have a frank discussion. I expressed my strong desire for the return of the American crew and he told me about the Chinese concern for its lost pilot and the unapproved landing.

Shortly after our meeting, I proudly welcomed home the American crew at Whidbey Island. While I am not implying that my meeting brought about the release of the American crew – much of the credit belongs to the deft work done by the State Department and a carefully worded letter from the US Ambassador - the meeting demonstrated to me the importance of relationships and always having an open door, no matter how difficult the issue at hand.

On this trip, I saw Mr. Yang again at a meeting with President Hu. Today, he's the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and could become the next Foreign Minister of China. That just proved for me once again that having personal relationships across government is critical.

Overall it was an important trip that gave me new insights into the challenges the Chinese are facing, allowed me to raise important issues for our state and helped me build relationships that will payoff for us in the years to come.

~ Patty

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Raising Tough Issues
Here are some of the issues I specifically raised in meetings with Chinese leaders in both Guilin and Beijing.

Protect Intellectual Property

Over the years, China has been a leading producer of illegal copies of software, music and movies. Those pirated products hurt American workers. Under U.S. pressure, China recently agreed to new rules and enforcement measures. For example, in April 2006, China agreed that all computers sold in China would contain a legal, licensed operating system in place at the time of sale. They also agreed to introduce licensed computer software to computers at all levels of government. I urged the Chinese to step up enforcement of these measures.

Don't Put American Companies at a Disadvantage

Inside China, there is pressure to enact laws and regulations that will protect domestic companies from foreign competition. Those proposals would put American products and companies at a serious disadvantage. I urged the Chinese to draft rules that will promote fair trade.

Improve Cargo and Port Security

China is a major exporter to Washington State and much of that cargo arrives at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. China participates in a port security program called the Container Security Initiative (CSI). I urged the Chinese to increase their level of cooperation and to include additional Chinese ports in U.S. security efforts.

Address Human Rights

As I did on my last trip to China in 1997, I raised the issue of human rights and labor rights. I told the Chinese that their treatment of citizens and workers will have a direct impact on their economy and their standing in the global community. I told them that as China prepares to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it needs to show the world that it is ready to be a major player on the world stage. I also told the Chinese that Americans and other consumers think about these things when they're shopping.
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First Stop: Guilin, China
China Trip 2006 - Map

Our first stop was Guilin, where President Clinton visited on his visit to China in 1998. Guilin is in the south central part of China and has a very humid climate. The area is known for the Li River, and it's a reflection of the challenges China is facing cleaning up its environment.

On the Streets of Guilin

We went out for a walk, and I was so impressed by the hectic traffic. At every intersection it seemed there were hundreds of motor bikes, bicycles (mostly from the 50s era!), walkers, mini buses, carts and cars.

As we tried to work our way through all the bodies and moving vehicles, a young man slowed down and asked us if we were "the Americans" who were in town. When we said yes, he put his thumb up, and said that it is very good that we're here.

Clearly, people here in this region are anxious to be recognized in the world. Our coming here is important not just for the discussions, but to show we care about them as well. On the Busy Streets of Guilin

Yes, They Know Seattle

In Guilin, I was talking with a group of Chinese officials, and when I said "Boeing," they all nodded vigorously. Then I said "Microsoft," and immediately they said "Bill Gates!" But best of all...I said Starbucks...and that hit the spot. They said they love Starbucks.

Poor, but Growing

In this region (Guangxi Zhuang), there are 49 million people in an area the size of California (which has about 36 million people). There is a lot of poverty. Clearly people are just subsistence living – fishing or selling a few wares out of their garages. But there are also a lot of new buildings, apartment buildings and offices.

Working to Be Part of the Global Economy

What I see here in Guilin is a country that is emerging into the world. It is very, very old and very crowded. There is much work to do to bring tourism in as they clean up their environment. But they are all busy - I saw no one idling on street corners. Everyone is busy - going somewhere, running their shops, working hard. And importantly there is a strong will to be a part of the increasingly global economy. return to top
How This Trip Came About
Three years ago, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), on a bipartisan basis, began discussions with their Chinese counterparts to have a better dialogue on issues that affect the United States and China. Those discussions led to the beginning of an Interparliamentary Conference where members of the United States Senate and leaders of the Chinese Parliament would meet to talk about critical issues of the day.

I was fortunate to be asked by Senators Inouye and Stevens to join them this year in China for the third formal meeting of our two legislatures.

Our state has a long and unique history with China that is valued on both sides. Following the normalization of relations between our two countries in 1972, the first cargo ship from China came to Washington State to formalize a new era. I felt this would be an excellent opportunity to continue a dialogue with Chinese officials on issues important to Washington State, so I readily agreed to join the United States Delegation.

So after finishing Senate work, I raced home to pack and fly to Guilin, China.
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