By Tim Johnson
Zhou Wenzhong, Chinese ambassador to the United States, attends a breakfast with the Vermont Youth Orchestra at the Wyndham Burlington hotel Wednesday.
ALISON REDLICH, Free Press
Soon after China's ambassador to the United States finished lunch Wednesday, he remarked that he was approaching an anniversary -- the 24-hour anniversary of his arrival in Vermont. In just that short time, Zhou Wenzhong said, he had learned enough to realize that he should revise the title of the talk he planned to give.
Instead of "China and Vermont: A Search for Collaboration," he said, it should be "China and Vermont: A Search for More Collaboration."
Throughout this first visit to Vermont by a Chinese ambassador, Zhou was showered by references to Vermont's ties to China, its commitment to cross-cultural understanding and economic interchange. Zhou's day began at the Wyndham Burlington hotel, where he and other guests were serenaded by the Vermont Youth Orchestra -- due to tour China next summer. Hosts for Zhou's whirlwind visit were the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont Council on World Affairs.
Zhou, named ambassador in 2005, has undertaken an outreach program that might be termed a 50-state strategy. He listed six states he hasn't visited yet, which makes Vermont the 44th.
If his other forays were anything like his spin through Vermont on Wednesday, he would seem to be getting a better understanding not just of the United States' geographical diversity, but of what it must be like to run for president -- absent all the nasty questions. Before he was done, though, he did draw a protest demonstration.
His day featured a visit to a high school (Colchester High, where Asian studies is a required survey course for ninth-graders) and a factory (Hazelett Strip Casting). Those tours were sandwiched between events at two hotel function rooms -- a buffet breakfast with the Vermont Youth Orchestra at the Wyndham (scrambled eggs, French toast, Brahms) and a sit-down luncheon with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce at the Doubletree (apple-stuffed chicken, rice pilaf, pumpkin cheesecake), each meal followed by a speech. He fielded questions with aplomb on subjects including social justice, environmental protection, the status of women in China, nuclear proliferation, North Korea's nuclear ambitions, trade and globalization.
Capping the day was a speech at St. Michael's College, where demonstrators waved Tibet flags and "Free Tibet" signs at a campus entrance, and later, at the rear of the gym where he spoke.
Zhou's visit also provided a venue for celebratory discussions of Vermont's varied international connections, particularly with China. At the luncheon, the chamber bestowed its annual "Exporter of the Year" award to Chroma Technology of Bellows Falls, a maker of optical filters -- some of which wind up in China.
The Colchester High School visit highlighted the growth of Asian studies in Vermont schools. Twenty schools in Vermont offer Chinese language instruction, according to JueFei Wang, director of UVM's Asian Studies Outreach Program, who added that more than 600 Vermont educators have visited China in the past 12 years. Vermont Commons School in South Burlington seized on the occasion to announce a multiyear collaborative project with the Nanjing Educational Technology Center, to include exchange visits.
Vermont's exports to China more than doubled in 2005, to $212 million, according to Census Bureau figures. Most of that increase was in sales of electric machinery -- the lion's share of which historically accrues to IBM -- which accounted for more than 85 percent of the total. Mainland China is Vermont's fourth-largest export market -- third largest, if you combine the mainland with Hong Kong. (No. 1 is Canada; No. 2, Taiwan.)
At St. Michael's, Zhou spoke in the Ross Sports Center to about 300 people. The speech on China's economy, investment and trade policies, was followed by written questions from the audience -- synthesized and posed by Olin Robison, a former president of Middlebury College, who served as moderator. The questions addressed China's relations with Russia, Japan, Korea and East Africa; and China's position on Iran and Iraq. Zhou discussed each one in some detail. Then there were the questions on Taiwan.
Please, Robison asked him before turning over the microphone, don't just repeat Beijing's line that Taiwan is a province of China. This is a young audience, Robison said, and they want to hear more than that.
Zhou was undeterred. His answer began: "Taiwan is part of China." He went on to say that the U.S. government accepts the "one-China policy."
The Tibet question came last. Robison pointed out that many Tibetan refugees live in Vermont, that the Dalai Lama has visited Vermont, and that many people here take issue with China's actions in Tibet.
"Tibet," Zhou said, "is part of China."
This drew catcalls from protesters in the back, but he continued uninterrupted. Colchester police arrested a 30-year-old Burlington man, Tsering Yeshi, when he continued shouting after he was warned to stop. He was later released on a citation to appear in Vermont District Court on charges of unlawful trespass and disorderly conduct.
Zhou went on to discuss China's policies toward Tibet and its official differences with the Dalai Lama.
The event ended. The Tibet protesters, members of the Tibetan Association of Vermont, walked out of the hall chanting and waving their flags. Zhou and his entourage left through another exit.