Zhou Wenzhong, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, presented his country’s plans for economic and social development before a capacity crowd yesterday at the Rackham Amphitheatre.
In his presentation, Zhou outlined China’s goal of quadrupling the per capita income of its 1.3 billion citizens by 2020. He also emphasized his country’s commitment to peaceful and environmentally friendly development.
“China will highlight the building of a resource-conserving and environment friendly society in its strategy for industrialization and modernization,” Zhou said.
In addition to China’s goals for economic growth, Zhou said that improving the quality of life of Chinese citizens is essential to creating a prosperous China.
“China will do its best to guarantee the rights of all its people to education, employment, medical and old-age care and housing,” Zhou said. “Our goal is to build a harmonious society.”
In light of several recent health scares involving Chinese imports, Zhou said his country is working to improve the quality and safety of products exported to the United States.
The ambassador criticized U.S. lawmakers for politicizing U.S.-China trade issues like currency exchange policies and the restrictions on obtaining U.S. business visas.
“However, one should not lose sight of the mutual complementary and the ‘win-win’ nature of this relationship,” Zhou said.
Zhou praised the University’s Center for Chinese Studies and spoke highly of the University’s partnerships with the Peking Union Medical College Hospital and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
“As China continues to develop and expand its openness, the exchanges and the cooperation with the state and the University of Michigan will make for greater progress,” Zhou said.
Zhou’s presentation was part of the University’s China theme year, sponsored by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.
Cynthia Wilbanks, University vice president for government relations, said events like Zhou’s visit to campus help increase the University’s recognition on a global level.
“China plays a critical role in the global economy, and we want to engage with them in that role,” Wilbanks said.
After finishing his presentation, Zhou fielded questions from members of the audience.
Many pressed the ambassador on remarks he made during his presentation that reiterated the Chinese government’s opposition to Taiwanese independence.
Zhou said that Taiwan belongs to mainland China and any attempts by Taiwan to separate itself will pose a serious threat to the safety of the region.
He added that any U.S. support of Taiwanese attempts at independence would endanger trade relations with China.
“It is a strategic interest of China and the United States to oppose all Taiwan independence,” Zhou said.
Accompanying China’s rapid growth have been numerous accusations of human rights violations, including attacks on the Chinese government for its ties to the current Sudanese regime and indifference to the violence taking place in the Darfur region.
But that hasn’t stopped University officials from working with China.
In 2005, University President Mary Sue Coleman and a University delegation made an official visit to China to establish relationships with several major Chinese universities.
In an interview last month, Coleman said the creation of the China theme year is important because it exposes students to the culture and politics of a booming nation like China.
“It doesn’t mean that we endorse everything that happens there, but I’ve found that ignoring a certain part of the world isn’t going to help us understand it,” Coleman said.
Several protesters outside Rackham carried signs that described Chinese policy toward Taiwanese independence as “outright lies” and “imperialism.”
Ann Arbor resident James Chen, who attended the speech and afterward joined the protesters, said he strongly disagreed with the Chinese government’s refusal to allow Taiwanese independence.
Chen said China’s rejection of Taiwanese independence and its claim to ownership of the country, is both imperialistic and illogical.
“If Taiwan belongs China, as Zhou says, then the United States should still belong to England, shouldn’t it?” Chen said.