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Thirty-five years ago, the first communist Chinese diplomats in Washington opened a liaison office in a dozen rooms in the Mayflower Hotel. In 1979, a year after the United States recognized the communist regime and cut relations with Taiwan, China purchased the old Windsor Park Hotel on Connecticut Avenue to serve as its embassy.
Soon "we were bursting at the seams," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi recalled Tuesday evening as he welcomed more than 500 guests to inaugurate the new Chinese Embassy, a 116,000-square-foot complex covered in gleaming white French limestone in the diplomatic office park in the Van Ness neighborhood in Northwest Washington.
He noted that the opening of the embassy marks the 30th anniversary of President Carter's decision in 1978 to establish full diplomatic relations with China. Mr. Yang also called the new embassy a "gift for the upcoming Olympics," which opens Aug. 8 in Beijing.
President Bush, who will lead a U.S. delegation to the Olympics, will dedicate a new U.S. Embassy in the Chinese capital on the opening day of the games.
"The completion of the two new embassies not only reflects the good shape of our relationship, but it also signals broad prospects for its further growth," the foreign minister said.
"Along with 35 years of evolution of the Chinese Embassy, the China-U.S. relationship has gone through an extraordinary path and made major progress."
Mr. Yang, ambassador in Washington from 2001 to mid-2005, negotiated the purchase of the embassy site on International Place and worked with the renown Chinese-born American architect, I.M. Pei, who designed the complex that appears inspired by Mr. Pei's other Washington Monument, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.
"Let's have a big applause for the world-famous architect," Mr. Yang said, as the crowd cheered the 91-year-old designer.
"When I first saw the blueprints, I couldn't figure out how the building would look," Mr. Yang admitted, adding that is why he is a diplomat and not an architect.
The complex is anchored by an octagonal central hall of 3,000 square feet with a skylight that soars 196 feet high. The central hall is connected by spacious corridors to an east and a west wing.
The walls and ceiling are also covered in French limestone, while the floor is tiled with gray Chinese granite. Picture windows look over a sculpture garden by Chinese artist Dan Liu on one side of the central hall and North American black pine tree on another side. The red seal of China sits over the entrance and, for the reception, two large, red Chinese paper lanterns hung on either side, giving a splash of color to the white limestone facade.
The lineup of speakers also reflected the importance of U.S.-China relations. Mr. Yang's featured guests included Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Deputy National Security Adviser James F. Jeffrey.
"I stand in awe of the great distance our relationship has traveled," said Mr. Negroponte, who as a young diplomat accompanied Henry Kissinger, then President Nixon's national security adviser, on trips to China to open relations.
"The two buildings stand as a statement of the great hopes all of us share for the future of U.S.-Chinese relations," Mr. Negroponte added, referring to the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Mrs. Chao, who was born in Taiwan where her parents fled in 1949 after the communists took power on the mainland, also saw symbolism in the new Chinese Embassy.
"The move from the previous building to this impressive new complex is emblematic of China's growing presence on the world stage." she said.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...
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