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Jiang May Try to Match Deng's 1979 Visit to US


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As Chinese leader Jiang Zemin tours America this week, he will likely try to repeat the magic that his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, displayed on his trip 17 years ago.

During that whirlwind nine days in 1979, the late Deng captured the imagination of American citizens and cynics, moguls, and media alike, transforming Sino-US ties and China's image.

Not only did his trip come just weeks after Beijing ended decades of isolation by forging diplomatic ties with Washington, but the diminutive Deng seemed a natural at posing for the cameras.

Spare of speech, he let American television commentators fill in rosy voice-overs predicting a new era of friendship and harmony between the Pacific Rim giants during meetings at the White House.

Pithy statements by Deng like "We came to the US with a message of friendship" seemed to wipe out in one breath 30 years of hostilities between the world's largest communist nation and the leader of the "free world."

Images of Deng wearing a cowboy hat at a Texas barbecue and maneuvering a lunar module at the Johnson Space Center were meshed together into what seemed to be a new Chinese-American opera, with Deng as superstar.

"Deng's tour of the US in 1979 opened an unbelievably romantic period in US-China ties," says a Western diplomat here. "Each side was somewhat blinded by the new relationship - so much so that many Americans forgot China was still a communist country."

The American press, eager to set up bureaus in one of the world's most mysterious and isolated countries, seemed to conspire in fashioning the dreamy Chinese-American drama.

In what was probably the last time a Chinese Communist leader ever praised the American press, Deng said: "I wish to thank ... our American media friends."


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