Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, in her position as US Secretary of State during her 2012 trip to China. (AP)
This week, First Lady Michelle Obama began her first trip to China, which will last until March 26, making her the fifteenth U.S. presidential spouse to visit that nation. Accompanying Mrs. Obama will be her mother Marian Robinson and, as did her predecessors Betty Ford, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush on their trips to China, the First Lady’s daughters.
In making official appearances at a university and two high schools in China, Michelle Obama is continuing her agenda of focusing young people on the crucial role that the pursuit of higher education has on their lives. Through social media and, in conjunction with PBS LearningMedia and Discovery Education, she is encouraging American students to follow her itinerary through China as she visits its historical and cultural sites, and to find commonalities with its students.
The social media technology which will keep American students updated on the First Lady’s trip in real time is a primary factor in the increased globalization which has marked the world in the last quarter of a century and has led to inevitable societal change within both the U.S. and China.
While the First Lady’s press office included mention of “current events and people of China” among the topics she hopes to focus on while there, her trip comes during a period when First Ladies, both present and former, were inevitably drawn into more overtly political issues during their time in China, especially on human rights, democratic change, and economic empowerment.
In this final of a three-part series on American First Ladies in China, the experiences of Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush are of an entirely different nature than those of First Ladies Julia Grant, Nellie Taft, Lou Hoover, Edith Roosevelt and Edith Wilson, who first visited.
Barbara Bush, 1974-1975, 1989
When President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford made their official visit to China in 1975, among the small delegation of American officials in the party which welcomed them in Beijing was Barbara Bush. Her husband George Bush had been appointed Chief of the Liaison Office to the People’s Republic of China in the fall of 1974 and served until the end of 1975.
In living there with him during that time, Barbara Bush became only the second woman who was an American First Lady to do so, the first being Lou Hoover three-quarters of a century earlier.
Future President and First Lady George and Barbara Bush were part of the welcoming delegaton for the President and Mrs. Ford in China, December 1975.
When the Bushes first arrived with their spaniel dog named C. Fred, they were assigned a four-bedroom, two-bath apartment above his office, with a staff of six domestic workers and a driver. Barbara Bush took daily lessons to learn the Chinese language and intensively read up on the centuries of Chinese history.
On the couple’s first full day in their new land they bought bicycles to get around Beijing as the city’s entire native population did. Barbara Bush began to fully explore the ancient city on her bike.
Her official duties were essentially limited to socializing at receptions hosted by her husband for delegations of visiting Americans or Chinese groups that would be soon making visits to the U.S.
Barbara Bush’s perspective of this period in her life captured a closed Chinese society still reflective of the revolutionary era of the 1950s and 1960s.
George and Barbara Bush in China. (GBPL)
She and her husband went on Sunday to the only church in Beijing which had only three congregants among the scant total of twenty who were Chinese; their daughter was the first person to be baptized in the entire of China since before the Maoist revolution.
George and Barbara Bush before one of the many mammoth images of Mao seen in China at the time they lived there. (GBPL)
Chinese citizens did not smile at or engage her, but did stare at her dog, a rare sight in that land where the species had been largely annihilated on the premise that food they consumed could be better used to feed humans.
On excursions to Canton, Nanking, Wuxi, Shanghai, Beidaihe, Loyang, Sian, Datong, Dalien, Daqing, she was struck by the abject poverty, government sterilization programs to reduce the population, and the hard manual labor shared equally by men and women.
The most startling aspect of her new life in China was the inescapable propaganda campaigns aimed at the Chinese people, both the massive signs (one of which read “Beware of the Imperialist Dogs Who Invaded Vietnam”) and loudspeakers blaring out Communist Party rhetoric. Without prior government approval, she was not permitted to explore China beyond a twenty miles radius of Beijing, as was true even for citizens.
George and Barbara Bush usually rode bicycles around Beijing when they lived there. (GBPL)
During trips to cities like Harbin and Tientsin, at factories and commune farms, it was plainly obvious to her that output had been manipulated to suggest the increase was all a result of “the glorious leadership of Chairman Mao.” She also had all types of evidence that she and her husband were being spied upon through their calls, mail and activities.
One month and five days after moving into the White House as First Lady, Barbara Bush returned to China for the first time in fourteen years, joining her husband there on a state visit from February 25 to February 27, 1989.
In Tiananmen Square, Mrs. Bush was stunned by the changes that had occurred in Chinese society since she had last been there: more automobiles, citizens wearing various-colored clothes and not just the requisite drab jumpsuits of the Maoist era, a tremendous number of new buildings.
President Ford, right, and First Lady Betty Ford, second from left, visit then-Ambassador George Bush and Barbara Bush. (GFPL)
Citizens were more overtly friendly towards Mrs. Bush and her American staff and the tiny congregation of the obscure church she had once attended was now massive and had moved to a far larger gathering place.
During First Lady Barbara Bush’s 1989 trip to China, however, were also the first signs of conflict rising from the communist nation’s move towards a more op
en market economy and concurrent, growing expectations of freedom. At the reciprocal dinner traditionally given by a visiting head of state for the leadership of the host country, among the guests invited to this event hosted by George and Barbara Bush was the Chinese human rights dissident Fang Lizhi.
George and Barbara Bush in China (AP)
Insulted, the Chinese government leaders to be honored at the dinner threatened to not attend. When they appeared, President Bush tried to diplomatically justify the invitation of the dissident, but the Chinese leadership were elusive in their response. Only the following day did George and Barbara Bush learned that the Chinese police had stopped Fang Lizhi on his way to the dinner, and prevented his attendance.
Mrs. Bush had her own first-hand experience with the hard-line tactics of the Communist Chinese. While following as part of her official media entourage to cover her visit to the Forbidden City, several American journalists found themselves being physically shoved by Chinese security agents in an attempt to distance and separate them from the First Lady.
1989 Pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square erect 33-foot high “Goddess of Democracy” statue. (AP)
Admitting that the Chinese had become “way too rough” with the reporters, Barbara Bush later reflected, “I should have stopped the tour and told our hosts that unless they lightened up, the tour was over.”
When finally the official White House photographer was “socked so hard that her jaw was dislocated,” the First Lady put a halt to the tour to “lay down a few ground rules” to Chinese officials in the entourage.
It was a menacing incident which seemed to foreshadow those which would take place just four months after Barbara Bush was in China.
In June of that year, in the very same Tiananmen Square where the First Lady had been startled by the radical changes she saw in China, pro-democracy demonstrations symbolized by a large white statue of a woman carrying a torch were crushed by the government.
Through the then-recent technologies of instant replay video, however, the entire world was able to witness much of it as the crisis unfolded.
Hillary Clinton, 1995, 1998
Hillary Clinton. (BCPL)
While coming to China with an entirely different agenda than Pat Nixon, First Lady Hillary Clinton’s 1995 trip to Beijing left just as indelible a global impression.
Human rights activist Harry Wu was arrested by China when he returned to his native land with a valid visa. (cnn)
She journeyed in what would be the first of her two visits as First Lady to China to address the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women meeting, a gathering of women from around the globe’s different cultures and nations united in their belief that, as Mrs. Clinton famously put it, “women’s rights are human rights.”
There had been considerable pressure before the conference for the First Lady to boycott the conference, due to the fact that China had imprisoned American citizen human rights activist Harry Wu in June when he had returned to his native country with a valid visa. It was officially announced that Hillary Clinton would not enter China unless he was first released. This possibility would prove humiliating to the Chinese government.
The Chinese ended up holding a sham trial which found him guilty of spying, and expelled Wu. Charges were made that China had agreed to freeing him in exchange for a promise that Hillary Clinton would attend the conference and not criticize its policies, to which the U.S. had agreed, but not such deal was made.
The American First Lady delivering her historic speech in Beijing. (Washington Post)
In fact, no such deal took place and when Hillary Clinton did go to China for the conference, she ended up becoming the first American dignitary to overtly speak out against both China’s human rights violations and media censorship on Chinese soil.
On September 5, 1995, after attending a morning session on “women and health security,” the American First Lady entered the Plenary Hall and made a forceful speech:
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton delivering her speech at the panel on Women and Health at the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing on September. 5, 1995 (AP)
“It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights…It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls…when women and girls are sold into slavery or prostitution for human greed. It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small…when thousands of women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war….If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
Although she did not literally reference “China,” in her speech, she did make reference to that nation’s notorious policy of forcing women to be sterilized or undergo abortions to enforce a “one child per family” policy and the horrific act by many Chinese families of killing infant girls because a son was more prized. She also made reference to the legal practices in some parts of the Middle East of domestic violence and death by stoning of women and the custom in some parts of Africa of genital mutilation.
Mrs. Clinton greeting some of the thousands of foreign representatives, both men and women, who attended the Beijing conference. (New York Times)
When she finished her remarks, the hall erupted with wild cheering, shouting and foot-stomping in support of her brave remarks.
The people of China, however, were never permitted to see footage on television of the American First Lady speaking, hear it on the radio or even read it in the newspapers. The Chinese government completed blacked out her remarks and filled its airwaves instead with propaganda extolling the strides of equality women were making in China.
The Chinese government’s senior woman official in attendance at the conference refused to answer questions from the international media who pressed her for a reaction, and all Chinese news outlets were ordered to report nothing of the speech. Only those Chinese who had been chosen by the Communist Party were permitted to participate in the conference and heard Mrs. Clinton’s speech; all other citizens who wished to attend were kept a far distance from the event by Chinese police. Delegates who were Tibetan and Taiwanese exiles were unable to even obtain visas to attend.
Hillary Clinton keeping her cool amid the bedlam caused by Chinese security at Huairou. (foreignpolicy.org
There had been a larger drama unfolding at the conference. Apart from delegates designated by their governments there were also representatives from a multitude of non-profit, voluntary citizen groups providing humanitarian services and assistance like monitoring policies and disseminating vital information.
These non-governmental organizations (known as NGOs) had been scheduled to hold a forum as part of the U.N. Conference but the Chinese government banned them from the main gathering. Instead, they were forced to meet in a converted movie theater an hour’s drive outside of Beijing in the relatively remote city of Huairou.
Learning of this, Hillary Clinton not only made her way through a downpour in a small caravan past endless rice paddies to what was now being called the “NGO Forum,” but she made her way through the muddy streets and crowd to address the three thousand women’s rights activists had crammed into the space.
Hillary Clinton with Beijing University’s women’s legal aid society members during her second trip to China in 1998. (AP)
If her Beijing speech had focused specifically on global violations of women’s equal rights, her subsequent commentaries following it were clearly intended to call out the Chinese government for the way it had reacted to not just what she said but the very conference:
“Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize, and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those who may disagree with the views of their governments. It means not taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing them, mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because of peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions…”
The President and Mrs. Clinton pose with their daughter Chelsea with the famous terra cotta warrior figures on their second of a nine-day state visit to China (Reuter’s)
Her first trip to China also became an important turning point not only as an American First Lady but also the long arc of public life that Hillary Clinton would later embark upon.
As she put it, “To me, it was important to express how I felt and to do so as clearly as I could.”Three years later, from June 25 to July 3, 1998, Hillary Clinton returned to China, joining President Clinton on an official state visit there, accompanied by her daughter Chelsea Clinton and mother Dorothy Rodham.
The Clintons on their Li River trip in Guilin, China. (AP)
While this trip entailed some of the more traditional aspects of trips by American First Ladies to China, such as a walk along the Great Wall, a grand state banquet in the Great Hall of the People, a cruise down the Li River to see its unusual mountain formations, and a quiet summer evening in an old tea house, Hillary Clinton also made public appearances which underlined many of the public issues important to her.
The Clintons walk the Great Wall of China in 1998. (AP)
At the Shanghai Library, she gave a speech about the status of women and how all of society thrives when the entire population is permitted to contribute to it with their talents. To further emphasize her intrinsic belief in a woman’s right to legal equal treatment, she met with women lawyers working at the Center for the Women’s Law Studies at Beijing University, similar to a legal clinic she had once helped establish while a law professor at the University of Arkansas.
First Lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tour the Ohel Rachel Synagogue, Shanghai, China. (BCPL)
To signal her support of more religious freedom in China, the First Lady toured the recently restored Ohel Rachel Synagogue, where a once-thriving Jewish community had worshiped in Shanghai, and attended Sunday services at the state-sanctioned Protestant Chongwenmen Church.
She also joined the President in politely but unequivocally arguing against the cagey rationale of President Jiang Zemin that China’s oppression of Buddhist Tibet had “liberated” its people.
Despite the aspects of harsh control exercised over its people which China could often demonstrate, Hillary Clinton believed it was important to still visit such a nation for, “deep differences are created by history, geography and culture and those can be bridged only – if at all – through direction experience and relationships.”
Rosalynn Carter, 1981, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
Rosalynn Carter (JCPL)
To date, no future, incumbent or former First Lady has visited China more frequently than has Rosalynn Carter. Thus far, she has made ten trips there.
As she did during her tenure as First Lady, Rosalynn Carter worked alongside her husband Jimmy Carter in nearly all of his activities as a former President, including traveling with him around the world as they made trips on behalf of the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, advocating on a number of issues including human rights, fair elections, economic development and accessible health care.
In a series of trips to China which she has made for over thirty years now, Rosalynn Carter has accompanied her husband as they both initiated private sector efforts on behalf of a multitude of these issues and then continued to investigate the progress of the endeavors, expand and improve upon them.
Deng Xiaoping and his wife visited the US in 1979, seen here with the President and Mrs. Carter, the only presidential couple since the Nixons who did not visit China during his presidency. (JCPL)
After Chinese Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping and President Carter normalized diplomatic relations in 1979, rapid economic change began in China, starting with families being permitted to farm a percentage of state-owned property and to begin a profitable small business, like animal husbandry or bike repair. He then urged Rosalynn Carter and the President to come to China and see for themselves the resulting changes.
The Carters have made more visits to China than any First Couple. (princepaulofromania.com)
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter proved to be the only incumbent President and First Lady since the Nixon presidency who did not visit China – yet they would soon enough earn a record by visiting that country more than any other President or First Lady.
In 1981, several months after leaving the White House, however, they did accept the offer of Deng to first visit and see how the nation was beginning to change.
More than any factor, the Carters were startled by the Chinese government’s genuine commitment to free enterprise.
The Carters received a gift of a drawing from a local Chinese village. (whatsonxiamen.com)
In 1997, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter returned at the invitation of The Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, to explore possibilities for an expanded relationship for the Carter Center in Chinese town elections, ascertain Chinese attitudes toward Korea, discover as much as possible the true state of affairs about life in China from top political leaders to peasants in villages.
They also raised issues the Chinese would rather ignore, such as its control of Tibet, Taiwan independence, religious and press freedom, persecution of dissidents, and other human rights issues.
An aspect of their trips to China has been the effort by the Carters to encourage religious freedom.(globalministries.org)
Besides Beijing, they also conducted work at Jinan in Shandong province and the rural Zouping County which had not permitted any foreigners to enter until 1984. Among the promising discoveries, the Carters found that citizens were largely benefiting from a relatively free economic system and able to more freely travel within China.
In 2001, just ten days before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were making their third joint visit to China, joined by Carter Center trustees, to help monitor and improve village elections at the invitation of the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Former President Carter introduces Rosalynn to Communist Party leader Xi Jinping during one of their Chinese trips. (ecns.cn)
Although there were tense and sharp arguments on the matter of freedom of religion during discussions in Beijing’s Great Hall, which continued over dinner, it resulted in an invitation for the Carter Center to send a delegation for unrestricted assessment of the religious and Tibetan issues.
On this trip, they also went to Shanghai, and Zhouzhuang, in Jiangsu province.
The Carters returned again to China in September of 2003 to further their efforts of political democratization there and begin meeting also with students who represented the next generation of political and business leaders there.
By the time of their next visit, in December of 2007, the Carter Center had established a working office in China. Among the efforts of particular interest to Rosalynn Carter was one to help train grammar school teachers of blind and deaf children.
The Carters at the opening of a photo exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of economic freedoms initated by him and Deng. (chinaconsulatechicago.org)
At an elaborate sixteen-course banquet in honor of the former President and First Lady, they met with, as the former President put it, “extremely successful entrepreneurs who have emerged from China’s shift to free enterprise and its remarkable economic growth.”
In January of 2009, the Carters returned to China to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of normalized US-Chinese diplomatic relations and to further expand the Carter Center’s working relations with government ministries.
During discussions on sensitive matters between the former President and Premier Wen Jiabao in the Hall of Purple Lights, Rosalynn Carter took notes of the discreet conversation.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter preview an artifact of China’s first emperor. (mychinaclub.com)
After visiting a museum in Hong’an, the Carters were feted by Hubei’s governor at a banquet in Wuhan, overlooking the Yangtze River.
Despite frigid temperatures, the couple had a change to enjoy a quiet walk together along the river’s edge.
Before leaving, they visited the Hubei Provincial Museum, where they enjoyed a concert on enormous 2,400-year-old bells.
Perhaps the most unique trip to China made by Rosalynn Carter was the one she undertook in November of 2009 with her husband, son Chip and his wife, to join some three thousand volunteers from around the world in a project of the annual Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project.
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter helping build a home with her husband through Habitat for Humanity. (sfgate.com)
They flew into Chengdu, and drove to the project site in Qionglai City, Sichuan, where an earthquake had destroyed or damaged many of the residential buildings.
The Chinese building project was one of a five-Asian nation effort in the Mekong River basin.
Once again in September, the Carters were back in China in 2010, for meetings on issues of mutual concern to the Chinese government and the Carter Center, as well as making good on their promise to visit the World Expo in Shanghai.
The Carters at a statue dedication and commemoration ceremony at an historic Nanking hospital. (english.cntv.cn)
After meetings in Beijing intended to encourage greater public access to government information, they flew to Zhijiang, in Hunan Province.
Here they participated in a statue dedication ceremony honoring American and both nationalist and communist “Flying Tiger” Chinese pilots who fought together to defeat the occupying Japanese.
Rosalynn Carter went on her own to Shanghai to tour the city’s Mental Health Center, and then delivered a speech which reflected her lifelong commitment to overcoming the societal stigma of mental health problems.
Mrs. Carter speaking at a symposium on mental health. (cartercenter.org)
Before returning to the US, they went to Changsha, where the former President delivered a speech at Hunan University, then observing its 1034th year of teaching.
The following year, in December, the Carters again journeyed to China, seeking underwriting for ongoing Carter Center projects and establishing an office for it in Beijing. They also went to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, once a rural region that had become a booming center of free trade.
The most recent trip to China made by Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter was in December of 2012, intended to pursue new projects of the Carter Center there and also to meet with a new generation of rising political leaders.
In Beijing during this trip, Mrs. Carter spoke to the large staff of American Embassy workers, where she and the former President also learned of the surprising increase of Chinese citizens seeking to formalize their faith in church membership.
The Carters overlooking a model of new buildings slated for construction in Nanking. (english.jschina.com.cn)
In Nanking, they visited a memorial to those Chinese massacred by Japanese troops in 1937, unveiled a statue honoring American and Canadian missionaries who helped found the original hospital there and helped dedicate a new one.
The 2012 Carter trip to China ended on Hainan Island, where the former President delivered a keynote address on “China’s Place in the World.”
It was during their first 2009 trip, as the Carters made the brief excursion to the Shanghai Airport that may have left the most indelible impression of the new China. As the former President described it:
“The first time I visited Shanghai, in 1949, there were only pedestrians, bicycles and rickshaws. After lunch with Consul General Beatrice Camp, we rode the magnetic-levitated train to the airport, a trip that takes an hour by automobile. Computer controlled, it left at exactly 3 p.m. and arrived at 3:07 p.m. It is the fastest train in the world, designed to run 310 miles per hour, and reached a speed of 269 mph on this short run of about 16 miles. As we flew past the Old City one centimeter above the tracks, I thought the amazing experience symbolized what is happening in China.”
Laura Bush, 2002, 2005, 2008
Laura Bush entering the Forbidden City during her 2008 visit. (english.sina.com)
First Lady Laura Bush made three trips to China during her tenure as First Lady, not having accompanied her husband on a more official state visit there soon after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York in September of 2001. Mrs. Bush’s China trips were relatively brief and did not take her extensively through the vast nation.
During her brief, initial visit to China,Laura Bush visited a Chinese food show.
On February 21, 2002, she joined her husband President George W. Bush on a thirty-hour visit to China, her first. The date marked the anniversary of the President and Mrs. Nixon’s historic 1972 trip there.
Shortly after her morning arrival in China with the President, Laura Bush toured the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum and three of the most architecturally significant of the historic structures on the grounds, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Dian) and Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohe Dian), and Juanqinzhai, a palace built for Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799).
Laura Bush fans herself while watching the U.S. men’s baseball team play a practice game against the Chinese team August 11 at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (GWBL)
She was joined by the wives of both the U.S. and Chinese ambassadors to each country, led by assistant curator Zhu Chengru, an expert on Ming and Qing dynasty histories. Apart from official appearances with President Bush, she had time only alone to visit a Chinese Cuisine Show in a hotel.
In November of 2005, Laura Bush joined her husband on another trip to China. It was a largely ceremonial trip, with the First Lady visiting the famous Ming Dynasty Tombs as well as the Great Wall of China.
Laura Bush and then President George W. Bush took photos with missionary members after a mass in Beijing on November 20, 2005. (english.cri.cn)
With their trip including a Sunday, the Bushes also attended a missionary Christian Church, highlighting the slight but growing trend towards a more lax attitude by the Chinese government towards freedom of religion.
The occasion of her third trip as First Lady to China was markedly celebratory and uniquely international.
From August 8 until August 11, 2008, Laura Bush joined her husband and their daughter Barbara, as well as her father-in-law former President George Bush, to attend the Opening Ceremonies and watch several competitions of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara pause next to a Fu Dog during their August 2008 visit to Beijing’s Forbidden City. (GWBPL)
“China was consumed with its global spectacle…We waved flags and cheered, moving from the Olympic swimming pool to the basketball stadium to the imported sand court for beach volleyball. It was a stunning sight to see the Chinese cheering for the American basketball players, chanting “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe!” she wrote, referencing Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant who was part of the U.S. Men’s Basketball team.
George and Laura Bush arrive in China 2002.
With her family members, she also participated in the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Among the few official events scheduled with the Chinese government leadership, Laura Bush particularly recalled a luncheon hosted by President Hu Jintao in the Forbidden City.
“There were small meandering streams and gardens,” she wrote in her poetic memoir, “but the ancient rooms are now largely bare, leaving their past to our imagination.”
Laura Bush in a Burmese refugee camp schoolroom. (chinapost.com)
Although she refrained from chastising the Chinese government when she was in that nation, before her 2008 arrival in Beijing, she visited the Mae La refugee camp on the Tahi-Burma border, the largest of nine which sheltered 35,000 refugees.
Her visit was part of an ongoing campaign she had been focused on for several years, to bring global attention to the harsh regime of Burma and the need for inciting peaceful change within it. She publicly called upon Chinese officials to speak out more definitively on Burma’s human rights violations.
Hillary Clinton, 2009, 2010, 2011, 20012, 2012 (2)
Former First Lady Hillary Clinton in her later position as Secretary of State. (DOS)
Apart from her two trips to China as First Lady, Hillary Clinton would make five further visits there during her tenure as Secretary of State during the first term of the Obama Administration. This tallies to a total of seven trips to China by Mrs. Clinton.
In February of 2009, a month after assuming her new role as the U.S. Secretary of State, former First Lady Hillary Clinton made her first trip to Asia, visiting Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China on what she described as a “listening tour” that was “intended to really find a path forward.”
Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Beijing, China, Feb. 21, 2009. (Xinhua)
During her three days in China, beginning on February 20, had Secretary Clinton meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and State Counselor Dai Bingguo. The topics of their discussion were general in nature, covering economic, security and environmental protection issues.
She returned again in May of 2010, to co-lead the U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue.
At that event, she pointed with particular pride to being able to sign a student exchange agreement, affirming an intent of President Obama to send some 100,000 American students to China by 2014 to learn the language, culture and business models of the Chinese.
At the same event, the Chinese government announced it would provide scholarships to 10,000 American students.
Senior Chinese official Dai Bingguo and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shook hands before their meetings in Shenzhen, China, July 2011. (AP)
The following year, at the end of July, 2011, she returned to China, this time to meet with Dai Bingguo in Shenzhen just as the U.S. government was on the verge of potential debt default, a matter of anxiety as well for China, its largest foreign creditor. At the time, China owned almost $1.2 trillion of U.S. Treasury debt.
Before she had arrived on the mainland, Mrs. Clinton was in Hong Kong where she expressed a calm confidence about the looming crisis: “I’m confident that Congress will do the right thing and secure a deal on the debt ceiling, and work with President Obama to take the steps necessary to improve our long-term fiscal outlook.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introduces U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to Chinese President Hu Jintao during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 4, 2012. (Getty)
Less than a year later, in early May of 2012, Secretary Clinton was joined by her fellow Cabinet member Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the fourth joint meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue with Bingguo and the Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan. The meetings took place in Beijing’s Great Hall, again with the objective was to strengthen the U.S.-China bond in arenas like culture, education, sports, science and technology, and women’s issues.
That trip, however, put Clinton in the middle of a drama involving blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. He had escaped house arrest and, after finding his way to the Embassy of the United States, requested the Americans to negotiate his safety in continuing to live in China.
Doing this right before Mrs. Clinton arrived for her meetings, however, the situation “exploded into an absolute circus” as one aide put it. Finally, Secretary Clinton personally negotiated to arrange for Chen’s asylum in the U.S.
The blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and Hillary Clinton finally met when both were awarded the 2013 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize on December 6, 2013. (zimbio.com)
Although Chen begged for a seat on the former First Lady’s plane returning to the U.S. she arranged for him to make the trip on a separate flight, and thereby saved the Chinese government from a sense of humiliation on the matter and move it as an example of human rights violations off the agenda of the imminent meetings.
When Hillary Clinton called Chen to inform him of all this, he burst with gratitude at her over the phone, “‘I want to kiss you!”
Four months before she left her position as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton made her fifth and final trip to China in that official role.
When she arrived in early September of 2012 for this final trip, however, she discovered that her scheduled meeting with Vice President Xi Jinping had been abruptly cancelled. The reason given was that he was suffering from an injured back. She did, however, meet with President Hu and other leading officials over the next two days.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister exchanged their conflicting views on the South China Sea at a news conference in Beijing Sept. 5. (AP)
Most of the geopolitical intelligentsia, however, was convinced that it was a result of the U.S. attempting to involve itself in a conflict among China and its Asian nation neighbors over disputed territorial maritime rights in the South and East China seas, which are believed to hold rich lodes of minerals and other natural resources.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a strained statement that nations not part of the region should “respect the choice of the relevant parties, hold an impartial position on the issue and make more efforts in favor of regional peace and stability.”
The decidedly Communist Chinese newspaper Global Times more harshly and personally declared that “many Chinese” resented Secretary Clinton.
During the course of her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, seen here at the U.N. in September 2011, did not hesitate to explicitly detail the issues which the U.S. sharply disagreed with China. (AP)
On September fifth, during this final trip as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton gave a larger context to the smaller conflicts which continued to arise between the United States and China: “Our two nations are trying to do something that has never been done in history, which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”
Not unlike her 1995 speech in China gently chastising it for ignoring women’s rights and human rights when she made her initial trip there as First Lady, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State had overtly challenged that nation on a variety of issues. She called it “despicable” that both Russia and China were unwilling to take a firm stand against the harsh violence being imposed by Syria’s President Bashar Assad upon his people. She warned African continent nations that the radical changes being wrought in their countries by Chinese development could create a “new colonialism” there if they did not firmly guide their own destiny. She also boldly criticized China for blocking parts of the Internet from being accessed by its citizens.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toasts with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan during a dinner of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, D.C. May 9, 2011. (Getty)
On March 18, 2012, to mark the 40th anniversary of the historic first trip to China by an incumbent President and First Lady, Richard and Pat Nixon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke before the United States Institute of Peace on the significance of that first adventure.
In her remarks, Clinton also acknowledged that United States and China had become inextricably linked in so many vital ways, and pondered with a sense of hope about their future together by looking back on how far the relationship had developed in that time:
“In 1972, [the U.S. and China] were connected only through a narrow official channel. Today, the web of connections linking our nations is vast and complex, and reaches into just about every aspect of our societies….
Tricia Cox, daughter of the late President and Mrs. Nixon, welcomed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before her remarks, marking the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s historic trip to China and discussed the future of U.S.-China relations, March 7, 2012, (AFP/Getty)
The opportunities before us are also shared, and they define our relationship much more than the threats….We have the chance, if we seize it, to work together to advance prosperity, pursue innovation, and improve the lives of our people and others worldwide…..
We are trying to do this without entering into unhealthy competition, rivalry, or conflict . . . and without falling short on our responsibilities to the international community.
We are, together, building a model in which we strike a stable and mutually acceptable balance between cooperation and competition. This is uncharted territory. And we have to get it right, because so much depends on it….
Interdependence means that one of us cannot succeed unless the other does as well . . . This is, by definition, incredibly difficult.
So let us remember and take inspiration from how far apart our countries were when President Nixon landed in Beijing and how much we have accomplished together since then . . . It is now up to us to make sure that the future is even more promising than the past.”
Three of the fifteen U.S. First Ladies who have been to China: Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Rosalynn Carter. (AP)