Chairman Ted Stevens Address to the American Association of Airport Executives' U.S.-China Summit

September 18, 2006

Thank you very much.  I’m delighted to have a chance to be here with Vice Minister Yang, Marion Blakey, and Thelma Askey.  As you’ve heard, I have a deep personal interest in aviation, and it takes me back a long way to think of some of the things we did in China.  I flew in China for almost two years during World War II, and our squadron motto was “We do the impossible immediately, but miracles take slightly longer.”  I have watched the aviation industry in China now for almost sixty years, and it is something that my State of Alaska has a great deal in common with China.  Our terrain is similar, and our weather is similar.  We have a long friendship with China, and I want you to know that during World War II, all Chinese were together in fighting the war with us. 
I’ve been fortunate to make many trips back to China since World War II.  One of the things I remember very vividly is that in 1980 right after Ronald Regan was elected to the presidency, Deng Xiaoping sent word that he wanted to talk to someone about what Reaganism meant.  I was then the Assistant Leader.  Howard Baker was the Leader (of the Senate), and he was selected to go to that meeting.  Unfortunately, his wife became ill, and the night before I was to be remarried, Howard Baker called me and said, “You’ve got to go to China.”  So, we left for China the next morning along with Anna Chennault, who was my general’s widow.  We had a series of discussions with the Chinese leader in the beginning of 1981.  I think we heard at that time a great deal of the vision of the great Leader of China, and much of his vision has come true.            
One of the things I distinctly remember was I asked him how many people there were in China in that year of 1981.  He said, “Well, there’s a billion people give or take twenty percent,” and I said to him, of course we were speaking through interpreters, I said to him, “Well, I hope you understand that that margin of error is roughly the population in the United States.”  And he told me, “I understand that, but do you?  Do your people really understand the difference between a country that is as large as ours in terms of population?”  I think that is one of the things that we must keep in mind as we’re dealing with aviation policy as far as China is concerned.  I think that the population gap has widened slightly since that time, but very clearly, the concept of dealing with a nation so large with so great a population is one of the great challenges that Vice Minister Yang faces. 
I don’t know if you know it, but almost every year since President Nixon reopened access to China for our country, Senator Inouye and I have gone to China.  We have traveled throughout the country, and several years ago we decided that we ought to try to find a way to open up a dialogue with the National People’s Congress.  And after some meetings, both in China and Hawaii, we signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the National People’s Congress that the United States Senate would send delegates to China once every other year, and the Chinese would send delegates to our country on the other years.  We have had these meetings now three separate times, and we have opened a dialogue with our colleagues in the National People’s Congress.  I’m really greatly encouraged by the pace with which our dialogues have continued starting in the beginning with a rather stilted dialogue of exchanging views, now to the point that we meet some place other than the capital city for at least two days and discuss issues and discuss them at length and very frankly.  It is something I hope that you will do in these conferences, discuss frankly the differences between our systems and try to find a way to blend them together. 
The future of this country, I believe, has a great deal to do with our ability to develop and maintain our relationships with the People’s Republic of China.  These talks that we have had have expanded our relationship now where we’re talking about issues on all levels of government, and one of the things I would hope that you talk about now, I’ve talked about a great deal with Marion Blakey, is the subject of safety in aviation.  Let me tell you from experience, of course your people aren’t flying planes with the power that we did, but I remember too well the days that we would take off and have to turn around, because we were flying into 180 to 200 mile an hour winds.  China, just as Alaska, is a weather factory.  It is a place where the challenges faced by aviation in terms of weather are overwhelming, but beyond that in terms of the number of planes that will be in that country in the future, I think Mr. Yang faces the same problems we do. 
I’ve talked often with Marion about what I call the mosquito fleet, the new light jet aircraft that will carry probably twelve to nineteen people, and will be available to enter into our airspace probably in four to five years in numbers that we can hardly comprehend at this time.  If general aviation expands in China at the same rate that it does here, Minister Yang has got his hands full, because at any one time, moving from city to city in China, there are over a hundred million people on the move.  I think we have to try to share with our colleagues from China some of the solutions we have found in our country.  In Alaska for instance, we pioneered Capstone.  I don’t know how many of you are familiar with it, but it is the very idea of trying to have air control, traffic control, and segregation concepts emitted from every cockpit. 
Having reliable transportation with safety without expanding geometrically the role of government in terms of regulating traffic is really going to be a challenge for the world.  I do believe that you all should look at how we have tried to handle this problem in Alaska.  In my state seventy percent of the villages and cities can be reached year round only by air.  We rely on the aviation industry for mail, healthcare, and consumer goods.  In fact, the number of licensed pilots in Alaska is seven times the national average.  I also remember too well one of the first hearings I held as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee on aviation safety when I found the statistics in my state were that about one out of every ten pilots was dying because of a lack of safety concerns. 
We have, as I’ve said, pioneered safety concerns, safety initiatives, and dramatically reduced our accident rate.  Unfortunately, in my day in China Mr. Yang, our accident rate was terrible.  We had more losses from weather and just running out of fuel than we did from enemy contact, but I do believe that the lessons we’ve learned should be shared openly with our colleagues from China.  I hope that you will pursue frankness in dealing with these people that have come to represent China with us.  I know that in your midst here now are some of the representatives of the American industry in China that I met in Beijing in August.  The American Chamber of Commerce, I welcome you here and know that your being here shows that those of you who are following the developments of the aviation industry in China will be able to contribute to this dialogue by really explaining some of the great problems that Mr. Yang and his colleagues face. 
Your commitment to fostering this relationship between the aviation industry in China and ours I hope is the same as our commitment in the Senate.  We want it to be a continuing dialogue of openness and frankness, and we want to develop friendships that will last beyond each meeting.  That has happened with us, and I’m pleased, as I said.  I know that Congress stands ready to try to implement anything that this conference discovers we could do to foster the growth of this relationship.  The aviation industry should be one of the great leaders in this drive of ours to ensure a continuing, good relationship with the People’s Republic of China.  I wish you well in your endeavors, and thank you for the opportunity to be here.  Thank you very much.