Tacoma doesn’t often host events that are presented on national media, but on September 23rd, it did. President Xi Jinping of China visited Lincoln High School on 37th street.
The Seattle Times reported that the school’s football team presented President Xi with a jersey and engaged him in a friendly conversation about sports. At the end of the visit, the President gave a brief speech to the staff and the students by recalling his first visit to Tacoma in 1993, stressing the importance of young people learning about the role they play in strengthening international relations. He then shocked everyone by announcing he would invite 100 Lincoln H.S. students to visit China in 2016.
On September 21st, the News Tribune reported that Xi himself requested to visit a high school during his Puget Sound visit. Tacoma is just one of the 295 school districts in the state, but it’s the only district handpicked by the President. Why? The short answer: he has friends here and doesn’t underestimate the power of “the local” when it comes to handling relations between two countries that have, at certain points, considered each other friends or foes.
In 1993, Xi led a delegation from Fuzhou, a southern port city in China, to Tacoma. He conversed with local citizens and politicians, struck up a trading partnership, and signed a treaty establishing the two cities as “sisters.” (It was surely not lost on the young politician that his ancestors—the U.S.’s first generation of Chinese immigrants—had likely built Tacoma’s railroads.)
History then took a dramatic turn: Xi returned to Tacoma 22 years later not as the young head of a city council, but as the president of an entire nation. His arrival demanded intense media attention, blockades on the streets, and most of all—an eager audience.
Although Xi had no time to grab a cup of Starbucks coffee or explore beautiful Downtown, for him, his visit to our city was not just part of political diplomacy, but civic diplomacy. President Xi’s bond with Tacoma reminds us that big cities aren’t the only place where friendship is built, understanding is reached, and peace is promoted. This happens on an individual level, as well.
As Michael Flower, a senior consultant with the World Trade Center Tacoma, told the News Tribune on September 16th, Tacoma’s name will now be more “familiar in China, certainly among the well-to-do who might invest in companies and projects and even send their children to go to school here.” The world will be pleased to have more international traders, politicians, inventors, and scientists shaped here at UWT.
As young people, the way we engage with those from other countries will determine what status the United States holds in the future. We live, learn, and work in an internationally diverse community, therefore we must be sincere, not strange, to each other.
If you happen to run into somebody who speaks another language, show genuine interest in their country, and return the favor by explaining facets of American life. If you get a roommate from another country, be open and curious by asking what differences he or she sees their home country and the U.S.
Being a diplomat requires a heart, not a high office. When those who invited Xi to Tacoma were hosting him at their dining rooms in 1993, who cared if he would become one of the most powerful people in the world?