China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 40 YEARS ON - By DONG LESHUO in Wash­ing­ton [email protected]­nadai­

For­mer US diplo­mat Jeff Moon had not planned to visit the Chi­nese main­land when he took a gap year in 1984 to travel Asia. But when he got to Hong Kong, he heard Bei­jing was is­su­ing tourist visas, so he changed his plans.

He spent a month tour­ing the main­land alone by train, stop­ping at Bei­jing, Wuhan, the his­toric cities of Xi’an and Luoyang, Chengdu and Chongqing in the west, and Lhasa in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

“Dur­ing that pe­riod, China was start­ing its re­form and open­ing-up, but the door was not quite open, just a lit­tle bit,” said Moon, who has lived in China on and off since the ’80s, ini­tially serv­ing as a se­nior diplo­mat and later re­turn­ing as an ex­ec­u­tive in the pri­vate sec­tor.

“When­ever I stopped on the street do­ing any­thing, a crowd gath­ered around me. They would just stare at me,” he said. “Peo­ple were very help­ful. They wanted to help me. We didn’t speak the same lan­guage.”

Dur­ing his visit to Chengdu, the cap­i­tal of Sichuan prov­ince, he re­called an “enor­mous crowd” gath­er­ing when he at­tempted to buy a coat. “They were help­ing me to make the pur­chase,” he said.

The trip was Moon’s first taste of the Chi­nese main­land. He re­turned in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity in 1995, when he was ap­pointed sec­ond sec­re­tary at the US em­bassy in Bei­jing.

He said the coun­try’s trans­for­ma­tion was im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous.

“The first time I was in Bei­jing, there were no cars, they were all on bikes. There were plenty of cars by 1995,” he said. “The bi­cy­cle lanes were all small and on the side, and the car lanes got a lot big­ger. That’s a metaphor for how much China had changed.”

This time, he saw no crowds gath­er­ing around for­eign­ers, while more ho­tels and restau­rants were cater­ing to over­seas vis­i­tors.

Af­ter two years at the em­bassy, Moon was re­as­signed. He spent the next six years in var­i­ous di­plo­matic roles, in­clud­ing as deputy di­rec­tor of in­for­ma­tion re­sources man­age­ment for the US Sec­re­tary of State’s of­fice.

Moon then served as con­sul gen­eral in Chengdu from 2003 to 2006.

“The Chengdu that I knew then has now dou­bled. I went back a few years ago, and the size of the city has been dou­bled and is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” he said. “It was a small town. Now, it’s a ma­jor city.”

Chengdu, well-known as the home of pan­das, is to­day the fifth-most pop­u­lous city in China.

Moon has also wit­nessed first­hand the coun­try’s ur­ban­iza­tion, in­clud­ing in Chongqing, a city of ge­o­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance that for years re­mained eco­nom­i­cally un­der­de­vel­oped. “Dur­ing the time I was there, Chongqing was a con­struc­tion project,” he said. “The en­tire city was be­ing re­built. It was just as­tound­ing.”

Chongqing was des­ig­nated in 1997 as one of four mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties di­rectly un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the cen­tral govern­ment. To­day it is a ma­jor metropo­lis, with GDP reach­ing $288.82 bil­lion in 2017.

An­other thing that im­pressed Moon about China was the num­ber of air­ports that had opened. “In sev­eral cases, they just took off the top of the moun­tains and put an air­port on top,” he said.

Moon said the high-speed rail­way be­tween Chengdu and Chongqing had dra­mat­i­cally cut the com­mut­ing time.

“That’s been repli­cated all through­out China,” he said. “That kind of in­fra­struc­ture ad­vance­ment has al­le­vi­ated poverty and fu­eled China’s econ­omy.”

On his most re­cent trip to the coun­try, about a year ago, Moon noted how many ar­eas of Bei­jing are now “cash­less”. He said: “That had just hap­pened within the last year. Again, it’s a sym­bol of the kind of change and a pace of change, and the un­pre­dictabil­ity of change.”

Af­ter sev­eral more as­sign­ments with the US govern­ment, in­clud­ing as charge d’af­faires in Nepal and deputy ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil at the White House, Moon moved to the pri­vate sec­tor in 2009, join­ing Cisco Sys­tems as vi­cepres­i­dent of Asia-Pa­cific pol­icy and govern­ment af­fairs.

As China was al­ready em­pha­siz­ing in­no­va­tion and pro­vid­ing sub­si­dies for tech com­pa­nies, Cisco was keen to work closer with Chi­nese part­ners. How­ever, Moon said the process faced chal­lenges.

“The prob­lem was we used the same terms in English and Chi­nese, but they meant com­pletely dif­fer­ent things,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to his un­der­stand­ing, in­no­va­tion in China is mainly planned by the govern­ment, which has pri­or­ity sec­tors and cho­sen en­ti­ties. But in­no­va­tion in the US starts at the grass­roots and rises, he said.

Moon, who now runs his own in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tancy, China Moon Strate­gies, said he be­lieves the fu­ture looks bright for China, but he still ex­pects there to be chal­lenges.

“China has now be­come the sec­ond-largest econ­omy, and in the com­ing decades it will be the largest econ­omy. So, China’s lead­er­ship has much more re­spon­si­bil­ity down the road,” he said.

He said two ma­jor chal­lenges for the coun­try are its ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment. “I know China has made progress, but there is a lot more to do in­side China for the in­ter­ests of the Chi­nese peo­ple,” Moon said. “China will meet its goal to be­come a pros­per­ous so­ci­ety with lots of po­ten­tial, and you have an in­cred­i­ble knowl­edge base — the Chi­nese peo­ple and lots of talent that can be de­ployed.”

Speak­ing on the cur­rent state of China-US re­la­tions, the for­mer diplo­mat said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is the most con­ser­va­tive he has ever seen. He ar­gues it has been a mis­take for the US to try to roll back glob­al­iza­tion.

“That’s go­ing to be changed in the longer term by facts on the ground,” Moon said. “By def­i­ni­tion, we’re go­ing to be­come much more glob­al­ized.

“Even if a leader de­cides that the US and China should some­how dis­en­gage, we may be dis­en­gaged but we will bump up against our neigh­bors wher­ever we go. To me, that’s point­less.”

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