Remarks Upon Returning From China

May 1, 1984

Thank you very much, Frank. Let me just say I'm proud of Alaska's congressional delegation and grateful for their help and support and for the way they represent their State in Washington. And on behalf of Nancy and myself, and from the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for your very warm welcome.

It's been a fascinating and rewarding 10 days, and now our long journey is nearly over. I was interested to read one report on whether the meetings were a success or not this morning. It seems that TASS, the Russian news agency, says that I was a failure at trying to eat a pigeon egg with my chopsticks. [Laughter] And as usual, TASS was wrong. [Laughter] It wasn't a pigeon egg; it was a quail egg. And I got it on the second stab. [Laughter]

But we traveled almost 20,000 miles to Hawaii, Guam, and finally, China -- to the cities of Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai. We saw the wonders of that country and the fine antiquities of the old civilization. But I think the best moment was late last night -- or I should say, early this morning.

Now, I had it all in mind that I was going to talk about coming through the darkness and then finally seeing the lights of the coast of Alaska down below -- [laughter] -- and the coastline there, and that we knew that we were seeing America again, and we were home. Well, there was a cloud cover all the way over the Pacific Ocean. [Laughter] So, the lights that we saw were the lights of Fairbanks, and believe me, we knew we were home, and it was just fine.

There's a poem that was popular when I was a boy. It was a poem about the American soldiers returning from the trenches in the First World War. They admired the grandeur and the oldness of Europe, but their hearts longed for the newness of their own country. And upon their return, in that poem they said:

So it's home again and home again, America for me.

My heart is turning home again and there I long to be.

The blessed land of room enough beyond the ocean bars,

Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

Well, it's good to be back in our blessed land.

We went to China to advance the prospects for stability and peace throughout the world. And we went to illustrate, by our presence, our sincere desire for good relations. We went to meet again with the Chinese and review our concerns and our differences. And we went to China to further define our own two countries' relationship -- and, by defining it, advance it.

And I feel that we have progress to report. I had long and thoughtful meetings with the Chinese leadership, comprehensive meetings. We each listened carefully to what the other had to say. We discussed and agreed to cooperate more closely in the areas of trade, investment, technology, and exchanges of scientific and managerial expertise. We concluded an important agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We agreed that in this imperfect world, peace in its most perfect form cannot always be reached -- but it must always be our goal. And we, the people of China and the United States, must make our best efforts to bring greater harmony between our two countries.

It's a good thing for the world when those who are not allies remain open to each other. And it's good to remember that competitors sometimes have mutual interests, and those interests can make them friends.

I told the Chinese leaders, as I told the students at Shanghai University yesterday, that we must continue to acknowledge our differences, for a friendship based on fiction will not long withstand the rigors of the world. But we agreed that there is much to be gained from mutual respect. And there's much to be gained on both sides from expanded opportunities in trade and commerce and cultural relations.

I was heartened by some of the things that we saw. The Chinese have begun opening up their economy, allowing more farmers and workers to keep and sell on their own some of the fruits of their labor. The first injection of free market spirit has already enlivened the Chinese economy. I believe it has also made a contribution to human happiness in China and opened the way to a more just society.

Yesterday, before we left, we sat in a Chinese home at one of the now-called townships -- they were once called communes -- the farm communes where they raise the foodstuffs for all of China, but now there is a difference. They owe a portion of what they produce to the government, but then over and above that they can produce on their own and sell in a free marketplace. And in this home, it was most interesting. This young couple, their little son, his mother and father living with them, and he was telling us all the things -- and he built that home himself, and a very fine job it was -- and then told us of how they're saving and what they're saving to buy next. It could have been in any home in America, talking about the problems of making ends meet and that they were saving for this or that for their future.

And I was also impressed -- not only by them but by all of the Chinese that we met -- by their curiosity about us. Many of the Chinese people still don't understand how our democracy works or what impels us as a people. So, I did something unusual. I tried to explain what America is and who we are -- to explain to them our faith in God and our love, our true love, for freedom. They'll never understand us until they understand that.

It was a breathtaking experience and in some ways, I think, a groundbreaking experience. But for us now, it's very fitting that we return home here to Alaska -- the only one of our States that is equidistant to Asia and Washington, a westward facing State, and a State, may I say, from which we've received strong support.

When I was in Beijing, I explained to the Chinese that our attempt to build up our defenses, after more than a decade of almost constant neglect, is an attempt to preserve the peace and preserve freedom in the world. No one has helped us more in our efforts to rebuild our strength than the members of your Alaskan congressional delegation. And I thank them, as always, for their efforts and their good sense.

It's been good to talk to you and to see you and to be welcomed by you. Every time I come to Alaska I think of Robert Service, and I always threaten to recite ``The Shooting of Dan McGrew'' -- [laughter] -- which I can do, believe it or not. But I won't subject you to it or those tired and bedraggled persons over there -- my friends in the press. They've been working very hard the past 10 days to bring you at home the look and sound of China; and they're tired, so we'd like to give them a chance to rest. Maybe at the next press conference I'll recite it. [Laughter]

But it's wonderful to be here, and I thank you again for your very warm greetings. We'll take them with us tomorrow when we meet here in Fairbanks with a great man of peace -- Pope John Paul II, who is also on his way to Asia, to South Korea. His continuing mission of peace is a service to all humanity, and I look forward to seeing and having a few moments with him again, as we had once before in Rome.

But again, God bless you all. It's just wonderful to be here, to see you all again. And all I can say, as far as Nancy and I are concerned, we'll be back.

Note: The President spoke at 12:23 p.m. in the Patty Athletic Center at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He was introduced by Senator Frank H. Murkowski, at whose home he and Mrs. Reagan had stayed upon arrival in Fairbanks earlier that day.