IFE Bestows ‘Civility Award’ to Chinese Envoy

Published on 5/2009 | The Washington Diplomat

In late 2007, Hillary Clinton — then a candidate for president — observed that “America’s relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world this century.”

That mantra was underscored repeatedly at a lavish event May 5, held at the sprawling new Chinese Embassy on International Place in the Van Ness neighborhood.

In keeping with the evening’s focus on Sino-American friendship and harmony, the nonprofit Institute for Education (IFE) bestowed its “Civility Award” upon Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong — “in honor of China’s outstanding performance in the 29th Olympiad and, more importantly, its leadership on the world stage.” Past recipients of the award include two Washington mayors, Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty, and two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia.

The 2009 Opinion Leaders Dinner Forum, whose theme was “China and the United States: A Vital Partnership,” marked the first time that so many senior Chinese diplomats and U.S. media heavyweights have shared a meal and hospitality in the nation’s capital. These included Gerard Baker and Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal; David Broder of the Washington Post; Thomas Omestad of US News & World Report; and Judy Woodruff of PBS’s “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer.”

Guests enjoyed an exclusive tour of the embassy — the last public design by world-famous architect I.M. Pei — then sat down to a dinner of corn soup, roast codfish, broccoli and carrots, desserts, fruits and Chinese tea. Some 100 guests including “opinion leaders” watched as former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger presented the award to Zhou.

“It is important that the People’s Republic of China understand us, and that we understand them,” said Eagleburger, 78, who spent three hours driving in the rain from his home in Charlottesville, Va., despite recent major surgery, to attend the event. “Within the next decade, it will be China and the United States that will be determining — more than any two other countries — the future of this world. It is the most responsible relationship we have, and it must prosper.”

Eagleburger — who along with Henry Kissinger was closely involved with the Nixon administration’s efforts to forge initial relations between Washington and Beijing — is the only Foreign Service officer to have been named secretary of state. As such, the veteran diplomat presented Zhou with a portrait of himself by noted artist Peter Max, who was raised in Shanghai and has painted portraits, posters and installations for six U.S. presidents from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama.

Zhou, who seemed pleased with the portrait, toasted Sino-American relations and called for “opening up new areas” of bilateral cooperation.

“Needless to say, we disagree from time to time, but I think it’s inevitable for any two countries to disagree on one issue or another. The important thing is to figure out how to settle these issues,” said the ambassador, who took up his post just over four years ago.

Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong received the Institute for Education’s “Civility Award” at a May 5 ceremony held at the Chinese Embassy. In addition, he was given a portrait done by artist Peter Max (front page) presented by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (front page left) and George Vradenburg, chairman of the Institute for Education Civility Program.

Considering the venue, this clearly wasn’t the moment to discuss China’s persistent human rights abuses, its detention of journalists or Beijing’s burgeoning trade surplus in the face of U.S. economic pain. In fact, Zhou hammered home the “harmony” theme, noting that harmony — pronounced “hé xié” in Mandarin — is one of the most often used words in China.

“We have a set of goals for pushing harmony in the world. Harmony is a part of Chinese history. Buddhism tries to seek harmony in oneself. Taoism seeks harmony with nature. Confucianism develops harmony within society. And we want to develop a foreign policy based on this traditional aspect of Chinese history.”

IFE, which sponsored the event, says its mission is “to recognize, encourage and promote civility and leadership locally, nationally and in the world community.” The Washington-based group says it “also encourages youth global citizenship with programs that foster intercultural understanding.”

As such, the organizers of this event were Kathy Kemper, a tennis coach who founded and currently heads IFE, as well as George Vradenburg, chairman of the Institute for Education Civility Program.

Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger, Coach Kathy Kemper, Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzong

Before stepping down to enjoy the rest of the evening — including a classical music performance by pianist Jiayne Yang and violinist Ying Jin — Ambassador Zhou thanked the many print and broadcast journalists in attendance for their hard work.

“For years, they have tried to cover China as objectively as they possibly can. They have played a very critical role in helping people here understand what’s going on in China,” he said. “The embassy will continue to do all it can to help these journalists do their job.”

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