Interview by: Heidi Powell
Heidi PP: It has been a month since you assumed your position in Houston. How do you feel about the city and what differences can you pick up on comparing to previous duties?
Wei: First of all, I would like to thank you for this interview. I arrived in Houston on August 2nd, as the 14th Consul General of China in Houston. Although I had been dealing with U. S. affairs for almost a decade, Houston and the Southern U. S. are quite new to me. My previous two posts were Ottawa, Canada and Canberra, Australia. These two cities are relatively small, not densely populated. Before this interview, I had just met with Mr. Turner, the Mayor of Houston. He told me that Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States. The most obvious difference for me is the fact that I came from a small city to a large metropolis. Also I found Houston more dynamic when compared with other U. S. cities I am familiar with. I don’t mean other cities are not dynamic, but Houston is more dynamic because there are many energy giants running day and night; the economy is good; and people are happy and seem optimistic.
Heidi PP: The China-US relationship has been quite turbulent for the past two years with issues at the center of the plate. What kind of relationship do you wish to see, and how would you in your position, during the time you serve, push toward the goal of peaceful relations?
Wei: I left my job with U. S. affairs right after the APEC Summit in 2014. At that time, the relations between China and the U. S. were formulated as the new model of major-country relations, based on non-conflict and non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. It is true that for the past 2 years, the relations have been strained by some frictions, and we have come to a crucial crossroad at the moment. We hope the bilateral ties can be back on the right track as soon as possible.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. The past 40 years have proved again and again that a win-win cooperation between China and the U. S. will be of more benefit to the two peoples and to the whole world at large. China is the biggest developing country and the U. S. is the biggest developed one. China and the U. S. are the two biggest economies in the world. It is essential to maintain a good and stable relationship. Again, it is not only good for the two sides, but also for the whole world. For example, during the APEC Summit 2014, President Obama also paid a state visit to China. The two countries concluded the China-US climate pact by committing themselves to reducing the emission of greenhouse gas. Seeing the pact, everyone knew the Paris Conference on Climate Change would be fruitful. That was a good public service the two sides delivered to the whole world.
At the same time, we don’t deny the fact that China and the U. S. also have differences, even competitions. For example, witness the on-going trade frictions. The latest IMF has warned that the prediction for the world economy’s growth rate is turning down because of the frictions. China’s position is clear and constant, that is we are “not wanting a trade war, not being afraid of one, and having to fight one when necessary”. On September 11 at the Argus Methanol Forum, I made a comprehensive illustration. On the same day, China unveiled the first set of lists of U. S. goods to be excluded from the first round of additional tariffs on U. S. Products. The exemption, which covers two lists with 16 categories of goods, will be valid from Sept. 17, 2019, to Sept. 16, 2020. I also have noted the U. S. side has announced postponing new tariffs on 250 billion U. S. dollars worth of Chinese goods, a gesture of good will. In summation, we believe that cooperation is the best choice, and the two sides should address the issue through dialogues and negotiations.
Heidi PP: I have to interrupt. What do you think you can do to push forward this relationship?
Wei: As a consular officer, I am committed to promoting bilateral relations mainly on the state and local level. We want to enhance the friendship and exchanges people to people. For example, I hope, through my work, the local governments will send more encouraging signals to the Chinese investors and business people: that they are still welcomed here, welcomed in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and all Texas despite trade frictions. In short,it will give more confidence to the Chinese business people and investors. And I call for the governments of local cities and counties to make some confidence building measures; such as, Chinese business people and students can still get visas and will not be sent back at the U. S. customs. At the same time, we expect the local Chinese to support and make more contributions to their districts. That’s what I just mentioned to Mayor Turner.
In my observations, the most important achievement of the 40th anniversary lies in the people-to-people exchange. In 2021 Houston will hold the World Table Tennis Championship. That will be the 50th anniversary for the Ping Pong Diplomacy. During the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, a US player missed his bus and got on the Chinese team’s bus. He said “How are you guys” to the Chinese players, and they talked about the game. Both teams were very excited because of the decade-long separation. Before this encounter, people on both sides had been kept away from touch and even fought wars on the Korean Peninsula. After 1971, the ice was broken. In 1979, diplomatic relations were established. So people began to come back and forth. That is the main achievement. It has laid the foundation for the current bilateral relations. Here in Houston, there are more than 300,000 Chinese. Many Americans are learning to speak Chinese. For every Spring Festival, you can see a lot of celebrations of Chinese culture. As the Consul General, I want to continuously promote people to people exchanges, which is so important to mutual understanding and cooperation.
Heidi PP: I have been to Xinjiang and have experienced the vocational education and training centers. It was very different from the negative image Western media usually portrays. Instead, I found many Xinjiang residents really benefited from the centers and learned tangible life skills that helped them to become self-sufficient. What do you say about this and can you provide more insight on this issue?
Wei: In my personal observations, some of the western media, not all of them, lack professional qualities. What does REPORT mean? It is just “reporting” information from one place to another. If a reporter has his own opinions, he can write the comments in the editorial. But the core of journalism is the facts should be reported as they are. Earlier today I read the local newspaper, and I found a lot of half-true news.
Back to the media reports on China. Almost all the local reports refer to China as COMMUNIST CHINA, giving people some negative hints in the very first place. By the way, you are meeting with a Communist. In China, COMMUNIST is a good word. We have different political systems, right? But you never find Chinese media saying CAPITALIST U. S. Chinese are not that ideological. We just recognize the facts. I found some western media just intentionally ignores the facts, going so far as fabricating something about China. This is what I call unprofessional. It lacks integrity of journalism. China has some problems and challenges, indeed. On the website, there is a lot of criticism about the government everyday. We don’t hide them; we instead are willing to face them. But we hope reporters speak from facts not fabrications. I just want to ask the reporters, “Do you still follow the principles you studied journalism in college?” Even though you are doing the investigative news, you still should follow the principles of journalism. It is especially important these days when everyone can be a reporter through Twitter, Facebook, etc. But as a professional, you should keep a certain level of standard, instead of catching the eye, or making exaggerations in only 140 words. Now the Consulate has more plays on our Facebook account, and WeChat. We just tell what’s happening.
Back to your topic XINJIANG. Val, you have been to China and you know the facts.There is a saying: you can never wake up a person who pretends to sleep. Terrorism is a threat to the whole world, including the U. S. There are some other ways to solve this problem; for example, to fight the terrorism wars. But what we want is to try to find some other ways that are more effective and less violent. For those people in Xinjiang in the centers, they are the law breakers with minor violations in the first place. Instead of putting them in jail, we send them into the centers, giving them some basic skills for making a living and cultivating their sense of law and citizenship. That’s eradicating the root of the terrorism. That is the Chinese way to address terrorism. For the past two years, there have been no majors attacks in Xinjiang. So many big changes and developments have taken place in Xinjiang. I think China should be encouraged and praised. Every country has its own conditions, and we are entitled to do our own way by making use of our own wisdom to deal with domestic affairs. There should be some respect to each other’s differences. As a foreigner, I don’t comment on local drug issues or gun control affairs.
China and the U. S. joined hand in hand in combating terrorism, as a part of the international joint efforts for counter-terrorism. Some of the terrorists in Xinjiang are trained in Afghanistan, some are still there and some come back. What we do in Xinjiang also helps stabilize the situation in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Heidi PP: You are the 14th and the youngest Consul General of China here in Houston, and I believe you have a fresh look toward the interaction with the local Chinese community. Do you have anything to say to the locals and Chinese abroad, and what kind of activities and interactions do you expect to achieve?
Wei: Oh, I didn’t realize I am the youngest. I’m Generation 70’s. I was born in 1971, the Pig Year. I might be more energetic and have some fresh ideas, but I lack experience. For example, unlike my predecessor Amb. Li Qiangmin who had been assigned to several other countries, I only have been posted to developed countries, Canada, Australia and the U. S., but I’m still confident. My major is U. S. Diplomacy. My tutors encouraged me to value the opportunity of serving in Houston as there are very few people who could have the career correspondent to his study. Secondly, I have dealt with the U. S. affairs for roughly 10 years. I think I’m just coming back, and quite excited. Thirdly, Houston has a lot of Chinese, as I mentioned. But for the local Chinese living in Houston, they are different from those in New York or Los Angeles. Most of them are professionals about the same age as I. They left their own hometown, and pursued further study here. They are valuable assets for both U. S. and China.
For those Chinese Americans, the Consulate encourages them to make more contributions to the U. S. and also to this relationship, as mentioned in my first speech in Houston. We welcome them to come back and see family members. We have adopted some policy changes to facilitate a longer stay in China. That’s one example. For those Chinese citizens in the U. S,; such as, students, tourists and visitors, visiting scholars, etc, we uphold Diplomacy for the People. That’s another. We have opened hotlines for any Chinese who is in need in U. S.. Their safety is our top concern. So we ask them to be familiar with the local situation as quickly as possible. For example, China’s traffic situation is quite different from here.
Last but not the least, I want to mention the drug on the opioid issue. In China it is strictly prohibited. Every Chinese family knows about the Opium War in the 1840s. The western countries including the U. S. imposed opium trade on us. Their fleets and guns opened our market, forcing us to buy more opium. Maybe some people in the western countries forget the history, but Chinese will not. Before the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, the opium addiction was epidemic for over a century. When the PRC was founded, drugs were strictly banned. We helped drug users to get rid of their addictions, and they got revitalized. In China, we are very strict on the use of drugs. Maybe people find it easy to find drugs here. So we ask the local Chinese students to keep alert, and not to try to bring them to China as the customs will do very strict inspections.
To the Chinese students, we encourage them to mingle with American friends. We talk a lot about safe study abroad and travel abroad. As we put it, Diplomacy for the People.