Dinner with Vice President Wang Zhen

At the beginning of the summer of 1979, I went with Sir Stanley Hooker, Don Pepper and my wife, Sally, to China on a trade mission. Sir Stanley was Technical Director and Don was Deputy Chairman of Rolls-Royce Aero Engines. My wife, who was also Sir Stanley’s daughter, sold TV programs to Central China TV (CCTV), and I carried everyone’s bags as well as having the small task of opening a conversation between CCTV and Leo Burnett.

My chop, carved overnight in Hangchow,1979

We were the guests of The Third Ministry of Machine-Building.

The man responsible for the Ministry was Vice-Premier Wang Zhen who was one of The Eight Immortals of The Communist Party. He was one of seventeen Vice-Premiers, and was an extraordinary, considerate and wise man. He was particularly helpful to me. I attach at the end of this blog The Times summary of his life from his 1993 obituary.

The events of that period are now sufficiently distant for me to be able to speak about the mission. Its objectives were highly ambitious and politically difficult, which I’ll probably cover in a book.

The Chinese were keen to talk to us.

Chairman Mao was dead. especially since the Gang of Four had just been arrested, leading swiftly to the confirmation of Deng Xiao-Ping as Premier, and with that, China’s re-entry into the world economy.

Our visit included an informal dinner with Vice-Premier Wang Zhen in a private dining room in The Great Hall of The People. I was sitting at an adjoining table to Wang Zhen, who beckoned to me after a while, and made a place beside him for me.

By this time, my colleagues and I had been in the country for a couple of weeks, starting in Beijing, and then moving on to Xian, Hangzhou, Shanghai, and then back to Beijing. The R-R Spey Mk 888 was being produced in Xian.

At the dinner table, Wang Zhen talked to me, via an interpreter, for thirty minutes or so.

The first question he asked me was had I noticed the Bamboo Curtain during our travels around China? I said I hadn’t seen it but I knew China had wonderful opticians who could supply me with magnifying lenses since the Curtain must be tiny, which was more or less the truth. He laughed cheerfully, and then showed me the bullet hole in his left calf muscle, which was a souvenir from The Long March.

In the following conversation, which was excellently translated by Mr Wong, he covered China’s then rock-bottom relationship with The USSR, the Chinese admiration of Edward Heath, and the likelihood of regaining not only Macau and Hong Kong without rancour and bloodshed, but also Formosa. He said a good deal more besides.

I asked him about Formosa, which is now called Taiwan by most of the rest of the world, including the island’s inhabitants.

The Vice-Premier chuckled and said, “We, the Chinese, have a very long history of thousands of years, and we shall have many thousand more. The time will come when our sacred island of Formosa will join The People’s Republic. So, we know we do not need to use force. History will reunite us.”

Wang Zhen died in 1993. Hong Kong reverted to China in 1999, and Macau followed in 1999, both reverting by treaty.

There is no treaty covering Taiwan/Formosa.

But the mainland Chinese are the world’s experts in the use of strategic patience.

Vice President Xi Jinping 17 Feb 2012 (Associated Press)

It looks as if Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is currently (18 Feb 2012) in America, will be the next President of China. Possibly, the topic of  Taiwan will have been raised, but it’s likely that trade relations and military issues would have been some way ahead of the issue of Taiwan. China is in no hurry, the mainland and island being trading partners.

If you Google “strategic patience”, you’ll be told that there are 12.8 million webpages concerned with the topic, most of them bewailing President Obama’s use of strategic patience in dealing with North Korea. The strategy has clearly failed.

This is not surprising. China has time to achieve results. American Presidents do no not.

The photograph of all the attendees at the dinner is shown below.

Dinner guests, Great Hall of The People, 1979

 Sir Stanley, Vice President Wang Zhen and Don Pepper are the three in the middle of the front row. Rolls-Royce’s Beijing representative in Beijing was Carol, on the extreme left. Sally and I are on the extreme right. Mr Wong, our chief interpreter, is the first at the right of the back row.

Vice-President Wang Zhen, Vice-President of  The People’s Republic of China

Wang Zhen, politician, born Liuyang Hunan 1908, joined Chinese Communist Party 1927, Senior Political Commissar 1932, Deputy Chief of General Staff 1955, Agriculture Minister 1955, Vice Premier 1975, Member of Politburo 1978, Vice-Chairman Central Advisory Committee 1985-87, Vice-President of China 1988-93, died Canton 12 March 1993.

Finally, if you would like to know more about the 1979 trade mission, please leave me a comment on this blog, or contact me via LinkedIn, and I’ll get in touch with you. I have a 20 minute after-dinner speech, and a 40-60 minute lecture on the subject. My LinkedIn name is Stephen Greensted.