How a Houston-area tour stop helped heal US-China relations in 1979

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020
How Houston played a role in US-China relations
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What do Houston, a 10-gallon cowboy hat, and a Chinese leader in 1979 have to do with diplomacy between the U.S. and China? Hit play to find out.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As tensions increase between the United States and China, we're taking a look at how Houston has played a role in diplomatic relations between the countries.

The U.S. has ordered China to close its consulate in the Bayou City in what a Chinese official called an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage relations between the two countries.

This comes after documents were burned on the grounds of the facility on Montrose near Harold Tuesday night.

"It appears to be open burning in a container within the courtyard of the Chinese consulate facility. It does not appear to be an unconfined fire but we have not been allowed access. We are standing by and monitoring," said Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena.

The Chinese Consulate was told to close the building by this Friday.

READ MORE: Documents burned on the grounds of the Chinese Consulate in Houston

But long before this escalation, there was a historic visit in 1979 seen as a watershed moment that healed relations between the United States and China.

The Chinese Consulate in Houston was opened in 1979, shortly after Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited the city and famously wore a 10-gallon cowboy hat a rodeo in Simonton, west of Houston.

A Washington Post story recalled the moment, explaining how the tour came shortly after the normalization of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing.

During his trip, Deng visited the Johnson Space Center, taking in the opportunity to sit in a model of the lunar rover vehicle on Feb. 2, 1979. Deng was also photographed looking over a model of an astronaut outside a space craft during orbital flight as astronaut Alan Bean explained his work in the Apollo program.

But it was on this same visit, seen in the ABC News story above, where Deng wore the cowboy hat, a photo of which appeared in newspapers.

The impression seemed to have a lasting effect.

After Deng's tour, Houston became the host city of the first Chinese Consulate General in the U.S. Deng was the first Chinese national leader to visit America.

The consulate in Houston opened in 1979. Here's what else to know.

  • Its consular district covers eight southern states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. It also covers Puerto Rico.
  • It offers visa and passport services.
  • It also helps promote diplomatic relations through cultural events like participating in the Houston Theater District's open house last year.

In September 2019, Consul General Cai Wei met with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, with a goal of promoting the friendship between Houston and China.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.