Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Walking In The Footsteps Of Bill Clinton

Much has been made in the Western media about the extent to which President Obama's visit to China was a tightly scripted and even controlled affair. As the story goes, the President Obama was ultimately unable, despite his clear preferences otherwise, to speak directly to the Chinese people and get out there into the public places of Shanghai and Beijing.

All of this criticism (whether it is on-spot or short-sighted) makes me wonder if there will be concrete, visible traces of President Obama's presence in these two cities the next time the four of us are in China.

I pose this question because we discovered on a number of occasions that there still are markers, more than a decade later, of the trip President Clinton made to China back in 1998.

It was in front of the stunningly beautiful Camel Hill, down there in the southwest paradise of Guilin, that President Clinton delivered a speech on the environment. As we found out, it is still a source of pride for the locals that the President of the United States came to their small city to give such a major address.

A day's trip down the Li River, in Yangshuo, the home of the most incredible limestone peaks you'll ever see, there was President Clinton again. You may recall that the four of us took an evening cormorant fishing expedition. Our guide for excursion was none other than the local fisherman who had accompanied President Clinton on a similar outing down and back up the river.

Back closer to home, there was the day last fall when we joined dozens of other Fulbrighters for a day at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Hopping into the cable car for the ride up to the top of the mountain, there was a totally unexpected sign of President Clinton that greeted us...

PRESIDENT WILLIAM .J. CLINTON TOOK THIS CAR DOWN THE GREAT-WALL ON JUNE 28TH 1998

Regardless of what one thinks about the politics of the freedom of movement enjoyed, or not enjoyed, by these respective American leaders (I am making a much smaller observation here, without weighing in on the merits of the larger argument), it is clear that President Clinton got "out there" into China much, much more than President Obama. And it is also clear to the four of us that, because of the visible presence that President Clinton projected around the country, his was a visit that is still fondly remembered by many Chinese, even a decade later.

~Steve

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