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Chinese Learn: Congress Counts

Gingrich and a flood of members go to China seeking 'youhao hezuo guanxi'

By Andrea Koppel/CNN

BEIJING (April 2) -- There was a time when the mere mention of Communist China among American politicians aroused a veritable "great wall" of hostility. But times have changed. More and more American politicians have been standing atop the real Great Wall.


Since last November's election, at least 80 members of Congress, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), have come to China, toured its Forbidden City and met with China's leaders. A handful, like Rep. Al Hastings (D-Fla.), have even made the trip twice.

"China is a happening," Hastings said. "And we need to be a part of a happening. That's one of the reasons I'm here."

Another reason is Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's unexpected visit to his alma mater, Cornell University, in June 1995. It was unexpected because President Bill Clinton had assured the Chinese the visit wouldn't happen. But at the last minute Congress went against the wishes of the president and voted to grant Lee's visa.


"And suddenly, as nothing before had for the Chinese, this indicated that the Congress really counts in American policy process," said David Lampton of the National Council on U.S.-China Relations.

The lack of understanding was a natural one. China's National People's Congress does not have the power to challenge China's top leadership, so the country's leaders assumed incorrectly that Clinton had the final say in his country's foreign policy.

And so, since June 1995, Beijing has been actively working to woo Congress and build an effective lobby. They've made some apparent progress. Gingrich, during his recent visit, told the Chinese that his delegation had come "to Beijing to seek 'youhao hezuo guanxi' -- friendly, cooperative relations."


By day two of his stay, even the usually acerbic speaker sounded more like a pitchman for China tours.

Unless you've been there, Gingrich said, "you cannot appreciate the level of change underway in China." (160K wav sound)

And that's precisely the message China's leaders hope the speaker and others will spread when they return home.

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