On U.S. trip, Chinese President Xi engages in people-to-people diplomacy

During his visit to Tacoma, Washington, earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping invited 100 American students from a local high school to study in China next year, The News Tribune reports.

Tacoma was the first stop on President Xi’s trip to the U.S., representing his commitment to people-to-people diplomacy, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Professor David Bachman, a China specialist at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, explains:

“[Xi] wants to show that it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain these kind of ties at the people-to-people and official-to-official levels…He sends the message that China’s most powerful leader doesn’t forget the people he had contact with and values meeting with ordinary Americans.”

Tacoma was a natural fit for Xi’s visit, the Tacoma Weekly writes, explaining that 21 years ago he oversaw the signing of the Sister Cities relationship between Tacoma and Fuzhou, China as a government official there. In 2012, then Vice President Xi made a similar trip to Iowa where he had previously stayed with a family on a 1985 exchange program (the Alliance reported). Bachman tells the Christian Science Monitor that “these personal contacts are unique to Xi,” setting him apart from former Chinese leaders.

During his visit, President Xi received a football and customized jersey from Tacoma’s Lincoln High School to commemorate the occasion, The News Tribune notes. In return, Xi gifted the school with numerous books about China, as well as ping pong equipment which has specific diplomatic value, President Xi told the students, remarking:

“Ping pong balls are much smaller than the American footballs…But they have very big implications for the U.S.-China relationship. They helped to reopen the exchanges of China and the U.S. and from then on China-U.S. relations have entered into a new phase.”

The Christian Science Monitor explains that “one of the early symbols of thawing relations between China and the U.S. happened in the 1970s when China invited American ping pong players to visit what had been a closed country.”

President Xi continues his U.S. trip in Washington, D.C. where he is currently engaging in talks with President Obama.