Tom Watkins was on his first trip to China shortly before the People's Liberation Army turned on the people of China, killing an unknown number of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing.
Watkins says the most defining moment of the trip for him was when a Chinese student asked him to describe democracy.
“I felt really inadequate to describe what we take for granted,” Watkins said. “It felt like trying to tell somebody who had never experienced freedom and democracy what it is like to wake up in the morning and start to breathe.”
Watkins was not in China on June 4, 1989, but he did watch the student-led uprising happen, and he recalls seeing the face of a lone man who defiantly blocked a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.
“I wondered at that time if he was ever going to have his question answered in his own way in his own country,” Watkins said.
Now, 25 years later, Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. He has spent years traveling between the United States and China campaigning for stronger economic and social ties between the two countries.
Watkins said it is the most important relationship in the world. He said China may surpass the United States as early as this year as the world’s largest economy.
However, there are rising tensions between the two countries. Watkins said the United States’ relationship with China is critical.
*Listen to full interview above.
– Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom