DENG VISIT OPENED DOOR FOR MARITIME TRADE
Former Seattle mayor prepared documents on governing city as gift for Chinese delegation
When Deng Xiaoping visited Seattle in early 1979, right after China and the United States established diplomatic relations on Jan 1 that year, Charles Royer was beginning his second year as mayor of the northwestern US city.
“It scared me to death when I got a call from Washington, DC, as a brand-new mayor,” Royer said. “I got a call from the State Department. They said, ‘You cannot talk to anybody about this, but Deng Xiaoping from China is going to visit four cities in the United States, and Seattle is one of them. And he will be here probably in the early part of this year.’ They called me in January. Deng came in February. So we had a month to get ready.
“It was kind of a nightmare, when we were just starting out, brand-new people in the office. But people involved loved the idea of being able to host, along with the other three big cities in the US, the new leader of China.
“The new leader of China, who had already articulated what he called the ‘new Long March’, which was a dramatic effort on the part of Deng, the pragmatic leader, to bring China forward into the 21st century, and by golly, it happened.
“The arrival of Deng was pretty exciting. There wasn’t a huge crowd. It was very personal and impressive.”
Deng visited four major US cities: Atlanta, Washington, Houston and Seattle, which was the last stop. Deng’s Boeing 707 plane landed in Seattle on the evening of Feb 3, 1979.
Deng wowed the crowd at a large hotel luncheon, toured a Boeing 747 plant in nearby Everett and impressed people with his humor at an intimate dinner with business and political leaders.
Unfortunately, Deng caught a bad cold and had to cancel other events planned for him during his 40-hour stay in the city.
“He was a small man but very charismatic, very imposing,” Royer, now 79, said, comparing Deng’s visit to Seattle to one by the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1983.
“He was one of the best political people I have ever seen with the crowd. I don’t know how he did when he was home. Here he was a very popular guy when he got out in the crowd, with a sense of humor and very easy with people.”
Soon after Deng left Seattle, a ship entered Shanghai harbor on March 15, 1979. It was the SS Letitia Lykes, the first US-flagged ship to call on China since 1949.
A month later, the MV Liu Lin Hai, docked at the Port of Seattle’s Pier 91 at Smith Cove. It was the first visit in 30 years by a ship from the Chinese mainland to the US.
“In 1971 there was almost no trade between China and the United States. Instantly, almost with Deng’s visit, everything opened,” Royer said.
He said Senator Warren Magnuson, who represented Washington state, and Seattle lawyer Stan Barer, who had once worked on Magnuson’s staff, played an important role in supporting legislation that helped maritime commerce between the US and China resume, at a time when many in the US were wary.
“Those two guys were very important in making it possible to improve the relationship with China,” Royer said. “Then to overcome a very difficult past, the key I think for me is Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the US.
“Ever since then, the trade numbers between the US and China grew exponentially. Suddenly, Washington state was the No 3 trade partner of China, behind California and Texas. That was a dramatic turnabout, to the benefit of both countries.”
He said the city government got some good advice from the state government and the University of Washington that helped it prepare for Deng’s visit.
“We knew we needed to prepare a business meeting for the delegation, a dinner, and of course, a gift for the delegation,” Royer said.
As for the gift, Professor Robert Kapp from the University of Washington suggested something that would be meaningful to the Chinese delegation.
“Kapp said, ‘The Chinese admire getting things done and accomplishment. They want to do things right. Why don’t we put together something that shows them how you make things happen in Seattle. I can’t think of any piece of art or memorabilia that would be more important than showing them how you make your government work. In their eyes, that would make you unique,’” Royer recalled.
So the city departments started collecting documents, explaining how they governed utilities, how they regulated historic places, how they trained the police officers, how they cleaned the streets, and other things.
“We had a bunch of people working on the huge project and ended up with four big boxes,” Royer said. “At one point we put them on a truck, took them down to the hotel where the delegation was staying, unloaded the boxes and explained to the delegation what we had done.”
In June 1979, Royer, along with nine other mayors from big US cities, visited China. During the delegation’s 14-day trip, they visited 12 Chinese cities.
“It was a goodwill tour, the first delegation of local officials to go to China during the normalization (of relations),” he said. “For me, the purpose of the trip was to meet with the local officials, talk to them about basically what’s in the ‘box’.
“We did hope our boxes would help and were always wondering, were there some young Deng Xiaopings, universities or local government officials, seeking truth through facts, being interested in the information we had collected and carefully studying these documents? Did these documents give them an idea or two that helped build a great city?”
Another way that Seattle has sought to bolster intercity ties is through the sister city concept that evolved in the US through president Dwight Eisenhower’s “People-to-People” program, established in 1956 to lessen the chance of war by involving people from all walks of life in personal diplomacy.
Having met Deng and toured China himself in 1979, Royer sent a delegation to Chongqing, in southwestern China, in 1982 to draft an agreement. On June 3, 1983, he sealed the deal in Seattle with then Chongqing mayor Yu Hanqing, starting a series of exchange programs and a relationship now in its 35th year.
Educational exchanges have played a key role, with the University of Washington and Sichuan University initiating their first exchange program in medicine in 1984. More recent collaborations between the two universities include the opening of the Confucius Institute of Washington State in 2010.
Royer eventually returned to China, spending most of his time in Chongqing.
He laughed when he talked about how a baby panda started to nibble on his shoes when he stepped into a panda cage at the zoo during his 1989 trip to the city. He said the city is a lot like Seattle, with a beautiful environment and great food.
The largest sister city project with Chongqing is the Seattle Chinese Garden. With an estimated cost of $40 million, the 2-hectare garden in West Seattle is a joint public/private project, with funds raised in both cities.
“We want the Chinese garden to be a conference center more than a garden, hopefully an education place and a place for people to get together and talk about important issues like the recent tariff thing,” Royer said.
He (Deng Xiaoping) was one of the best political people I have ever seen with the crowd . ... Here he was a very popular guy when he got out in the crowd, with a sense of humor and very easy with people.” Charles Royer, former Seattle mayor
Charles Royer displays a photograph of Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Seattle in 1979 at his home.