Wednesday September 30, 2020

U.S.-China Policy Foundation 21st Annual Gala Dinner
Honoree Remarks

The Honorable Barbara Hackman Franklin
President and CEO of Barbara Franklin Enterprises; 29th Secretary of Commerce

Accepting the “Lifetime Achievement Award in U.S.-China Relations”
Remarks as delivered on Thursday, November 17, 2016
at the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC

Thank you for this wonderful honor.  I am truly touched.

My sincere commendations go to the USCPF and Dr. Wang Chi, who has dedicated himself to this organization and to this cause for years.  Dr. Wang, you have built so many bridges in a variety of areas that have strengthened the relationship between the US and China.  Thank you.

Ambassador Roy, that generous introduction was over the top.  You are a star in the realm of US-China relations.  Everyone I know values greatly your insights, experience, and wisdom.  And I am eternally grateful to you for your assistance during my mission in 1992.  That was invaluable.

Congratulations to the great Mike Lampton whose work in this arena has made such a difference over the years.  You deserve every accolade you receive and then some.

I’m honored to be on the same roster with Director General Ban Ki Moon.

Ambassador Cui, it’s always good to see you.

Thanks to my wonderful husband, Wally Barnes, who has been so supportive over the years of my China work.

Let’s turn the clock back to 1992.  It was the week after the election, and President George H. W. Bush had lost.  He called and asked me to undertake a mission to China.   I was taken by surprise.  Surprised because US-China relations were at a very low point and had been since the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989, after which the US placed 8 sanctions on China.  And there had been some tough rhetoric aimed at China and at President Bush during the campaign.

The President went on to explain what he had in mind.  He said that he wanted one of the sanctions removed — the ban on high-level government to government contact.   Because, he said, it would be more difficult for the new Administration to build the relationship with China if that sanction were still in place.  So, I was to go to Beijing and reconvene with my counterpart the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT), which had been moribund since 1989 because of the high-level contact ban.  Reconvening the JCCT would signal a restart to a commercial relationship between China and the US, still very insignificant, and begin to bring the entire Sino-US relationship into a better place.

The purpose of the mission was clear.  Time was of the essence.  The Bush Administration would leave office on January 20, and it was now mid-November.  So, we did what we had to do – put a delegation together, a small one, and prepared fervently for this trip.  You may know that the Commerce Secretary does not have an aircraft, but President Bush wanted me to go to Beijing in style.  So he made available an old Boeing 707.  We were told that this plane had at one time served as Air Force One. It was so old that it was not equipped with a GPS.  The pilots were using hand-held GPS’s, I learned afterward from my husband, who is also a pilot.  I’m glad that I only found out about this after we returned home!

We did not make a lot of public announcements about this trip, but the word got out.  That brought out some of the negative feelings about China that were prevalent at the time.   From the right side of the political spectrum, Senator Jesse Helms from North Carolina called and told me that I should not go.  “They are communists.  We should deal with them.”   From the left, those very concerned about human rights were also angry with China.  So, at the outset, this mission was bound to be controversial, which, quite frankly, it was.

I was mindful that while there was a diplomatic aspect to this trip, I was not the Secretary of State, I was the Secretary of Commerce and I had better develop some business for US companies.  And so, I sent messages to our Chinese counterparts about the new business relationships I hoped we could form during my visit that would be a win-win for both sides.

We left the Washington in mid- December, arrived in Beijing, had very productive meetings with the Chinese side, led by Minister Li Lanqing, whom I liked very much.  We worked well together.  I also had a cordial meeting with Premier Li Peng.

The result: A billion dollars’ worth of contracts were signed between US and Chinese companies while we were in China. (This isn’t much by today’s standards but back then significant.)  Much more business flowed afterward, and the JCCT working groups got going again.  Then we came home, I wrote a report to the President and the Congress, and we left office. That was it.

Only in hindsight years later did the significance of that mission came into full view.  It was a turning point that began to get a productive relationship between the two countries back on track. It gave a green light to US companies eager to explore business opportunities in China and they did. The trajectory of both trade and foreign direct investment took off dramatically after that.

So, that now today, 2016, the economic relationship is so large, so complex, so multi-faceted, so interdependent, and very critical to both countries as well as to the well-being of the global community.  Today it is the very foundation of the Sino-US relationship, which is the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

This is rather amazing.  Despite the rough spots and the differences we have – and we do have them – great progress has been made in this relationship by working together.  And so today the relationship between China and the US is vastly different and much more positive than it was in 1992, and we should not forget this.

Now the US election is over and the new government is in formation.  It’s a hopeful sign that President-elect Trump has talked with President Xi Jinping and from the sound of it, they expressed a willingness to work together.  My further hope is that the two presidents will talk regularly and often, that they will build a personal relationship.  That they will identify the areas of agreement and where the two countries can work together both for the short term and the longer term.  That they will also identify the areas of disagreement and look for common ground on those as well.

I hope that our new President will appoint people who understand and have experience with China.  And that on the Chinese side, there will be an equal desire to work with US counterparts.

Finally, for those of here in this room…we all have friends on the US side, on the Chinese side, or both.  As this new government takes shape here and as there are changes on the Chinese side next year, now is the time to motivate ourselves and our friends to do all we can to help move the relationship forward in a positive way.  I believe we should leave here tonight determined to do that.

Thank you, again, for this inspirational evening.