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Working toward better US-China relations

By MAY ZHOU | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-23 09:15

Liu Yawei was a university freshman in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi province, when China and the United States announced the establishment of diplomatic relations in December 1978. It was such a dramatic event that its vividness stayed fresh in his memory.

"Waking up in the morning, we were quite surprised by the news. We never dreamed of having a relationship with the very 'enemy' we tried to destroy for years," said Liu, director of the China Program at the Carter Center and an adjunct professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

He had no inkling that because of that announcement, years later he would go to the US to study, and one day he would end up working for former US president Jimmy Carter, the man who signed the normalization agreement and decided to accept Chinese students to US universities in a midnight call from Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

"I wouldn't be here without Carter and Deng, as wouldn't many other Chinese who now live and work in the US," Liu said.

He worked in publishing as an editor for a few years after graduating from Xi'an Foreign Languages Institute in 1981. He then went to the University of Hawaii in 1987 and continued on to Emory University to obtain a PhD in history in 1996 on a Woodruff Fellowship sponsored by Coca-Cola, one of the first US companies to enter China.

It's by chance that Liu ended up working at the Carter Center. One of Liu's former professors was working at the center when its officials were invited by China's Ministry of Civil Affairs to observe village elections in the mid-1990s.

"I was teaching at a local community college at that time. The professor asked me to help, and I began to work as volunteer, translating documents for the China project. In 1998, the professor left the post and asked me to take over. That's how I landed at the Carter Center," Liu said.

With the Carter Center, Liu ran the China village election program for more than a decade. In the end, the program helped more than 600,000 Chinese villages standardize election practices.

The Carter Center also invited numerous Chinese officials to observe US elections.

The primary function of the program was observing and reporting China's elections at the local level.

"Our reports improved China's image when it comes to China's grassroots elections," Liu said.

In 2005, Liu helped the Carter Center establish the China Program, dedicated to advancing US-China relations by building synergy between China and the United States on issues of global importance.

"We always try to find areas (where) the US and China can work together," he said.

"Forty years have passed since the birth of modern US-China relations. To both sides and the world at large, this relationship is today one of the most consequential bilateral relationships on earth," Liu said.

"However, this relationship is under strain, facing a serious crisis of trust and a broad spectrum of urgent challenges. It is therefore important for those deeply involved to come together and share their views on what factors have made the relationship in the past mutually beneficial and what will be required to sustain a viable US-China relationship in the future," Liu said of the symposium.

Building US-China relations is a legacy program for president Jimmy Carter, Liu said.

"Different from many other think tanks, the Carter Center focuses more on practical issues. The China Program has always been working on finding solutions for better US-China engagement and will continue to do so," he said.

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