People’s Daily Exclusive Interview with Jan Berris, vice president of National Committee on US-China Relations
More than 40 years of experience in people-to-people diplomacy has made “me realize the strong public supports for development of China-US relations,” Jan Berris, vice president of National Committee on US-China Relations and an expert on Chinese affairs, said in a recent interview to the People’s Daily.
AS the Chinese and US heads of state are about to meet in Florida, Berris is quite confident about the post-meeting development of China-US relations.
Having been engaged in US-China exchanges for more than 40 years, she was, in 1980, once among the US delegation to receive then Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee Xi Zhongxun, father of the sitting Chinese President Xi Jinping. In 2012, Berris presented Xi Jinping, then China’s Vice President a photo album recording the moments during Xi Zhongxun’s US visit.
Q: You accompanied Xi Zhongxun during his visit in the US. What impression he left on you?
A: He was very impressive. It was a large delegation consisting of provincial secretaries and governors. Different from the current tight visiting schedules of Chinese officials, the delegation stayed for three-and-a-half weeks in the US and visited eight places. They had in-depth communication with a great number of US officials and experts, obtaining a deep insight into the US society.
We also got to know these Chinese senior officials during their stay. Xi Zhongxun was the head of the delegation who has taken really good care of other members. I have been in companion of many delegations, and sometimes the chiefs of them would only care about his or her own speeches regardless of other members’ opinions. However, Xi Zhongxun was different. He encouraged the members to voice their thinking. The deputy chief of the delegation was Song Ping, then member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of CPC Central Committee, and Secretary of the CPC Gansu Provincial Committee. Xi Zhongxun’s speeches and answers were also sincere and properly arranged, especially the one delivered on the farewell dinner held by the governor of Hawaii State before they returned China.
Q: Xi Zhongxun’s son, the then Vice President of China Xi Jinping visited the US in 2012, and received an album recording his father’s US visit as a present from the president Stephen A. Orlins of the National Committee on US-China Relations. What was his reaction?
A: There was no digital camera back in 1980, and the photos were shot with a small traditional camera. Orlins and I selected some representative pictures and made them into an album. First informing the protocol department about the present, we finally sent it to Xi Jinping on the welcome banquet held by the National Committee on US-China Relations.
He was very pleased to see the album. Instead of extending thanks and handing it to retinues, he opened it and had a thorough look. Recognizing many people on the pictures, he leafed through almost the entire album. When he visited the US again in 2015 as the Chinese President, the National Committee on US-China Relations held a large welcome banquet in Seattle. On the banquet, Xi Jinping mentioned the album to Orlins. His wife Peng Liyuan said that he has placed the album on the tea table of the living room rather than a book shelf.
Q: Xi Jinping is about to meet with his US counterpart Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago resort. What’s your opinion on the meeting?
A: We are happy to see the meeting. The face-to-face dialogue is much more effective than other ways of communication like phone conversations. It will enhance mutual understanding between the two leaders as well as the in-depth exchange of views between the two sides, though the Trump administration hasn’t formed a clear China policy at this moment. It could not be better if the two leaders could reach some consensus.
I think the two leaders will have a discussion on the issues of common concern, such as the nuclear issue on Korean Peninsula and China-US trade, among others issues. It is already a positive sign for the two leaders to have a talk and work things out, regardless of whether consensus will be reached or not.
Q：How do you expect the China-US relations after the meeting? Will it develop toward a positive direction?
A: The two presidents are both strong and influential leaders. I have been engaged in the promotion of China-US relations at the National Committee of US-China Relations for 46 years. I believe the development of bilateral relations between China and US is more than simply one or two high-level meetings, and the long-term common interest and people-to-people exchanges are the real power driving the ties between the two countries after the signing of the Shanghai Communique in 1972 and the establishment of China-US diplomatic ties in 1979.
Over the past years, the two countries have witnessed prosperous academic, economic and trade exchanges, and their governments at all levels have signed numerous memorandums of understanding. We hope the bilateral relations will carry on the positive momentum during Trump administration. All in all, the relationship between the two countries is determined by people-to-people exchanges. Therefore, as long as the two leaders could have a good start, the solid foundation of public support for the China-US relationship will never be shaken even if no consensus is reached this time.
Q：What role will the National Committee of US-China Relations play, if disagreements remain after the meeting?
A: Since the establishment of the organization in 1966, the committee has been devoted to pushing forward China-US relations. Despite twists and turns and changing situations, the committee will continue to facilitate people-to-people connections, promote exchanges between different ideas in a bid to deepen mutual understanding and solve problems together.