House Armed Services Bipartisan Delegation Returns From Overseas Trip

Jun 10, 2002
The following text is an account by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) of his trip along with 12 other members of Congress led by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA). The delegation visited Moscow, Russia; Tashkent and Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan; Beijing, China; Seoul, Yongsan (U.S. Army) Base, and the Demilitarized Zone, Republic of Korea, May 24 through June 3, 2002. Delegation members included Representatives Curt Weldon (R-PA), Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Jim Turner (D-TX), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Steve Horn (R-CA), Eni Faleomavaega, (Del-American Samoa), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Carrie Meek (D-FL), Steve Chabot (R-OH), and Brian Kerns (R-IN). ------------------- During the Memorial Day Congressional recess I served on a House Armed Services Committee delegation headed by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-PA, for an around-the-globe visit with political and military leaders of Russia, Uzbekistan, China, South Korea and U.S. troops overseas. In the War on Terrorism all four of these nations have allied with America to include extraordinary support from Russia and Uzbekistan and the longtime relationship of our Korean friends. Our thirteen member bipartisan delegation had the unique opportunity to meet for an hour each with the presidents of Uzbekistan and China in their official compounds. The first stop was Moscow, which marked my fifth visit since 1990, and I have never been more encouraged, because it is obvious that democracy and free markets have taken hold. In numerous conferences with House (Duma) and Senate (Federation Council) members in the immediate wake of President Bush’s successful visit, I quickly realized the milestone has been reached of Americans and Russians approaching the same values of democracy and not just words. I was able to see the wide boulevards of Moscow filled with modern cars and the bustling shops which more resemble Washington now than the pathetic communist dilapidated capitol I first visited in 1990. Upon our arrival in Uzbekistan, it seemed confusingly lost in the midst of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, but the size of 25 million and its central proximity north of Afghanistan make it a very important new ally. President Islam Karimov has recently returned from a Washington visit with President Bush and his enthusiasm for our values of freedom and democracy was obvious. As he leads his nation from totalitarianism he even said he hoped his country would adopt a bicameral legislature on the American model. Karimov’s support of America is quite sincere, and understandably so when you realize that terrorists for years have tried to assassinate him. The capitol of Tashkent has also been subject to numerous bombings. His desire to work with the U.S. is demonstrated by his government providing the vital former Soviet air base at Karshi-Khanabad (K-2) for U.S. forces immediately after September 11th, which is adjacent to Afghanistan. Our delegation visited the American troops at the base in the remote desert and it was reassuring to see their determination and competence. The visit to Beijing, China, was startling to me. I saw a booming Westernized metropolis that only 20 years ago allowed private car ownership. The reforms are clearly a rejection of Marxist ideology and political reforms will surely follow. President Jiang Zemin warmly welcomed us with a pledge that China and the United States have more in common interests than differences. I spoke with him about my late father who had served in the Flying Tigers in China when we were World War II allies, and he said there is still a great fondness for America’s support during the war. A phenomenal indication of changing attitudes was our time spent at the National Defense University, which is China’s equivalent to West Point, Annapolis, and Air Force Academy combined, and it also contains similar programs to that of our Naval War College. Rep. Weldon gave an inspiring speech on democracy and I joined with Rep. Steve Horn, R-CA, in a breakout session with the cadets on representative democracy. Concluding the trip across Asia to Seoul we were welcomed by the devoted American military at Osan Air Base and flew from there in helicopters to Yongsan Army Base before meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Sung Hong Choi. The economic miracle performed in this country was obvious. There is a vibrant economy that has recovered from the total devastation of the Korean War. It’s per capita income has soared from $100 in 1962 to over $10,000 per person today, approaching European standards. During our stay, we stopped by the truce village of Panmunjom on the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating democratic South Korea from the communist North. It was chilling to be stared at by the North Korean guards who came to the conference building windows peering at our nametags. Our delegation’s only disappointment came when we where unable to receive visas to visit North Korea to promote dialogue and understanding. The highlight of our trip was when we had the opportunity to thank the men and women of the American military stationed abroad serving in defense of freedom. Their courage should be an example to all Americans. As encouraging as it was to meet with foreign leaders, the most reassuring fact was to meet with the Air Force crew which flew us around the world, 15,843 miles, and other military personnel that we met in Uzbekistan, South Korea, and Alaska. America’s current military men and women are upholding the great tradition of our veterans who have made democracy’s preservation possible in the United States and its spreading acceptance across the world. ###