Actually, this column isn't coming direct from Beijing, or Peking, as the capital of China was known before the United States decided in 1979 to recognize the nation of a billion people and re-establish diplomatic relations.
But Ralph Harding, a former two-term U.S. Congressman from Idaho, came directly from Beijing this week to tell about just how well the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China is coming along.Harding spent last week in China. He saw the Great Wall . . . he saw the Forbidden City . . . he ate strange-looking fish dinners with the eyes still in the fish . . . he learned how to use chopsticks . . . he saw Mao's tomb . . . he played golf with the General Secretary.
This last activity wasn't your run-of-the-mill tourist stop. It isn't every tour group that stops at the Ming Tomb's Golf and Country Club outside Beijing for a few holes with Mr. Zhao Ziyang, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Ziyang is their Gorbachev. He and Gorbachev and Reagan make up the Big Three. When Ziyang speaks one billion Chinese listen.
Harding was a special invited guest to the first annual Chinese International Friendship Tournament. Harding is the co-founder (long with Harmon Killebrew) of the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament, an ultra-successful celebrity/charity event held every summer for the past decade in Sun Valley. The Chinese wanted to know how Harding manages to get people like Tip O'Neil and Sandy Koufax and Clint Eastwood to always play in his event.
Also invited from America were PGA touring pros Morris Hatalsky, Steve Jones and reigning PGA Championship king Larry Nelson.
The two-day tournament was a rousing success, said Harding. Ambassadors and high-level business leaders from around the world were there, as were any number of top Chinese political officials. Like, for instance, Zheng Tuobin, the Minster of Economic Relations, and Rong Gaotang, the Vice President of the All-China Sports Federation - to drop a few major Chinese names.
"I would suspect the others are playing golf because the boss is," said Harding.
Ziyang officially opened the event by throwing out the ceremonial first tee shot. He was surrounded, according to Harding, by Secret Service types who assumed the General Secretary would just hit the one ball and then get back to the office for important matters of state.
"But he stayed and played," said Ralph.
The chance to play with Nelson, twice a U.S. Open champion, and with Hatalsky, who just the Sunday before had won the Kemper Open in Washington, D.C., might have had something to do with it.
"Ziyang knows everything about American golf," said Harding. "He'd just watched the Kemper Open live that weekend, and knew all about Hatalsky's win."
After the round, Ziyang posed for photos with the three American pros, Jones, Hatalsky and Nelson. Diplomatic protocol stopped him short of asking for their autographs. But he did ask them how they keep from slicing the ball on long iron shots.
"He's got to be the most avid head of state golfer since Eisenhower," said Harding, whose two terms as an Idaho Congressman were in 1960 and 1962. "He's got a good swing. I'd say he's about a 24 (andicap)," said Harding, who diplomatically added, "but in a year or two he'll probably be beating me."
For Harding - who brought back proof-that-it-happened photos of his golf trip to China - the experience was in direct contrast to the last time he had anything to do with the Chinese. That was in the war in Korea.
"I saw the fierceness and hostility of the Chinese soldier," he said. "Then the truce was signed and the fighting stopped. At 10 o'clock on the button both sides stopped shooting. The next morning we came out of our bunkers and looked across the mountains and the Chinese, with their flags and colorful clothing, were doing likewise.
"I wondered what their reaction would be 30 years later, and what mine would be . . . and it turned out that it was wonderful. Really, the Americans are the most welcome and well-received of any foreigners in China."
Especially those who can run a golf tournament, or win one.
"We've got a substantial advantage in golf diplomacy," said Harding. "It should help pave the way for a lot of favorable relations between the United States and China." Not to mention the fact that it should help the General Secretary's game.