Chinese-Americans hope summit boosts Sino-US ties

This undated photo provided by the Annenberg Foundation Trust shows a bridge that crosses a stream on the golf course on the grounds of the Annenberg estate, "Sunnylands," with the Chinese Pavilion in the background, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The sprawling estate built by late billionaire philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg in the desert east of Los Angeles is a place where political powerbrokers once gathered to discuss critical issues of the day. Now, four years after Leonore Annenberg's death, Sunnylands is beginning a new foray into international diplomacy by hosting two days of talks between President Barack Obama and the newly minted Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: AP

Joaquin Lim hopes the upcoming meeting between new Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama will mark a fresh start for relations between the country where he was born and the one where he has lived for the past four decades.

The 63-year-old Chinese native and American citizen didn't pay much attention to international politics after he came to the U.S., focusing more on daily life in Southern California.

But when he ran for elected office in the city of Walnut in the 1990s, Lim said he reconnected with his roots and since then has kept an eye on China's rise.

"As a country grows, as more attention is placed on a country ... people like myself who might have been detached got reattached," Lim said.

Many Chinese-Americans hope that the high-level visit of the Chinese leader to meet with Obama on Friday and Saturday at the secluded Sunnylands estate in the desert near Palm Springs will enhance rapport between the two men and pave the way for closer ties between the two nations.

Not only might that help enhance trade relations and educational opportunities, it could ease fears by some Chinese-Americans that they could face a backlash from the broader American population if tensions rise between the two economic and political powers.

"A lot of people regard China as a threat or a potential competitor," said Yong Chen, associate professor of history and Asian American Studies at University of California, Irvine. "Many people want China and the United States to have good relations so that Chinese-Americans will not be treated in a hostile manner."

Census data shows about 4 million people of Chinese heritage live in the United States, with more than a third of them in California.

In Los Angeles and its sprawling suburbs, Chinese-Americans have a history dating back generations. In the 1960s and 1970s, a sizable contingent of immigrants came from Taiwan, but in recent years more have hailed from mainland China.

The city — which is vying to bolster its tourism industry — hosted 460,000 Chinese tourists last year. China is the biggest source of overseas tourists to Los Angeles and also the city's biggest foreign trading partner, according to the mayor's office.

In a nod to the region's importance, Xi visited Los Angeles last year as vice president. He was greeted with a banquet attended by 500 Chinese-Americans eager to meet the man slated to become the country's next leader.

"A lot of people wanted to join (us) but we were full," said Sue Zhang, who heads the Roundtable of Chinese-American organizations and was one of the event's organizers.

While security will be tight at Sunnylands, a group of Chinese-Americans nevertheless plan to make the two-hour drive from Los Angeles to welcome Xi.

International relations experts say taking the meeting outside Washington — where such conferences are carefully scripted — is a good move to help the two leaders build rapport. While the leaders will likely discuss cybersecurity and trade, the event is seen largely as an opportunity to establish cooperation, said Stanley Rosen, professor of political science at University of Southern California.

Dominic Ng, chairman and chief executive of East West Bank, hopes the visit might help the leaders work together on cybersecurity.

If tensions over cybersecurity continue to rise, Ng said Americans might be reluctant to hire or promote Chinese-Americans who work in computer programming or engineering jobs that require American security clearance.

"This is one of those ticking time bombs that can be a problem for Chinese-Americans," said Ng, who chairs the Committee of 100, an organization of prominent Chinese-Americans that encourages constructive relations between the countries. "We hope with a more productive collaboration between the two presidents they will come up with some concerted efforts to tone down this U.S.-China, winner-loser, or one-has-to-beat-the-other type of mentality."

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