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A Lifetime Fascination with China

China Daily, April 11, 2012 Adjust font size:

Thin but tall, wearing glasses, and always smiling but with curiosity in his eyes, this is the first impression one gets of Robert Zoellick. Of course, this is only a small glimpse into the head of the World Bank. He's expected to step down in June.

As a business reporter, I am always proud to tell my colleagues that, during his five-year tenure, I have accompanied Zoellick on business trips in China, including the poor regions, three times. I conducted exclusive interviews with him at these sites.

No matter where he is, China or the United States, he exercises, usually jogging in the morning, every day, for one hour, with his bodyguards.

He's a light eater, mostly choosing sandwiches. He is allergic to nuts and loves diet cola drinks.

He is gracious, as seen at the news conference on the World Bank's report on China in 2030 this February in Beijing. When he was interrupted by a Chinese protester who identified himself as an "independent researcher", Zoellick said "that's the point of any good research report".

But the most important thing is, that he is deeply fascinated with China.

During the past five years, Zoellick visited China every year. Unlike many executives of international companies, besides visiting Beijing and Shanghai, he always went deep into regions that are far away from the biggest and most prosperous cities.

I still have vivid memories of a trip with Zoellick and his Chinese colleagues in the autumn of 2010. To inspect World Bank projects in China's western region, we flew for two hours from Beijing to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province.

Then, it took us more than six hours by bus from Guiyang to Xingyi, one of the poorest cities in the southwest of Guizhou.

He was still smiling when we arrived at the hotel after the long and bumpy trip. A colleague of mine in her 30s whose hometown is in Guizhou, joked that many Guizhou people like her had never been to Xingyi, let alone most Chinese people, but Zoellick made it.

Such experiences are what Zoellick is proud of. In a recent interview, he told me the best part of his travel experience in China as World Bank president was being outside of Beijing and Shanghai, particularly some areas that most people don't visit.

"It was a brilliant chance to go to Jilin. I really enjoyed the trip to Liaoning province. I have been to Heilongjiang. I went to Sichuan and Guangdong a couple of times and Guizhou and Inner Mongolia."

He first visited China in 1980 when he was in Hong Kong on a fellowship program. That was also when China launched its opening-up and reform policy under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, a strategic turning point for China. Zoellick had a chance to meet Deng in 1989 during a trip with US President George Bush.

When he was US deputy secretary of state, Zoellick proposed to make China a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system.

Analysts said his "stakeholder" idea provided a "sense of direction" for the development of US-China relations.

During his tenure, Zoellick has tried to promote talent from emerging countries, including China. He said the World Bank needs to be a good partner of China, and the bank's relationship with China needs to change because China is changing.

Zoellick expressed his willingness to work for and with China after his retirement. "I am fascinated by China, and I have a great sense of respect for what the Chinese people have accomplished.

"I don't know what I am going to do yet, but I hope to stay in touch with developments in China."

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