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Dedication of Bush House
Ambassador Nicholas Burns

October 20, 2023

A very warm welcome to everyone.  Libby and I are absolutely delighted that you are all here to celebrate the dedication of this house in honor of two of its very first inhabitants a half century ago, the late President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush.

We are honored this evening by the presence of their nephew, Alexander Hap Ellis III of Boston, Massachusetts.  Hap is the Chairman of the George and Barbara Bush Foundation Board.

Our old friend, Max Angerholzer is also here.  Max is the Chief Executive Officer of the George and Barbara Bush Foundation.

I am also especially pleased by the presence of the Executive Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Ma Zhaoxu and his delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  His participation this evening honors the legacy of President Bush here in China.  Thank you, Vice Foreign Minister.

You will hear from all three of these honored guests following my remarks.

I want to single out other honored guests –two of our retired Chinese colleagues, Mr. Yang Gengqi –who worked at the old U.S. Liaison Office and knew Ambassador George H.W. Bush when he was here in China and Mr. Guo Decai who also worked at the Liaison Office at that time.

This is the house to which the United States returned to China in 1973—fifty years ago this summer—after an absence of 24 years at a very different time when our two nations and peoples had virtually no contact with each other for a generation after 1949.

With our celebration this evening, we honor a long tradition in the American Foreign Service of naming our Ambassadorial residences after past Presidents and figures of national renown.  When I was Ambassador to Greece, Libby and I lived in Jefferson House in Athens and in Truman Hall in the Flemish countryside of Belgium when I served as U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

So, the idea of naming this house was rambling around in the back of my mind when the two of us were quarantined here for 21 days – following our arrival in Beijing during the dark Covid winter of 2022.  But, for whom should we name this house?

One day that winter, I came across a list of all of my predecessors as U.S. Ambassador to China.  They included our very first Ambassador, Alexander Hill Everett of Boston, who arrived here in 1846 and perished from disease three months later.  One obvious takeaway from that list stretching back 180 years is that only one of those august figures subsequently become President of the United States.  That was certainly a good reason to name this Bush House.

A second reason was that George H.W. Bush was one of the Founding Fathers of America’s modern relationship with China.

When he and Barbara Bush arrived here in 1974, during the waning years of the Cultural Revolution, his major task was to work with Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, Premier Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping to nurture the young, brittle, and somewhat uneasy unofficial relationship between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China in those years.

George Bush was Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China.  He could not call this house and the office building attached to it an “embassy” as we did not have at that time full diplomatic relations with China.

It was Zhou Enlai who convinced Henry Kissinger that, despite this fact, the U.S. and China should send diplomats to each other’s capitals.  Zhou ordered the construction of this compound in 1972.  The Bushes thus served here at a critical time in the development of that nascent relationship and were, to paraphrase Dean Acheson, truly present at its creation.

There is a third and final reason for our renaming of this house this evening—and that is Libby and my deep admiration and respect for both George and Barbara Bush who personified the spirit of public service that is an essential element in the life of a diplomat.

George Bush was perhaps the most international of all our Presidents in American history.

A combat pilot and veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces here in the Pacific in World War Two, Ambassador here in China, Director of the CIA, Ambassador to the United Nations, a globe- trotting Vice President for eight years; and, in my own view, one of the most accomplished and successful Presidents in foreign policy since the Second World War.

He steered our country—effectively and peacefully—through the fall of the Warsaw Pact monolith in Eastern Europe in 1989-91.

He was an indispensable champion of German Unification in 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He upheld the rule of law and the United Nations Charter in leading an unprecedented global coalition to liberate Kuwait from an evil despot in 1991.

And I had a front-row seat, as one of his White House advisors on the Soviet Union, as he balanced a descending Mikhail Gorbachev and an ascending Boris Yeltsin in seeing an end to the USSR on Christmas Day 1991 and thus the old Cold War –all remarkably—without a shot being fired.  It was, by any standard, a truly historic diplomatic accomplishment.

Finally, it is rare that such a great global figure walked this earth so humbly until his very last days.

Libby and I saw this up close when former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush came to stay with us for four days in the Ambassador’s residence in Greece in 2001.  In between a major speech and meetings with Greek and visiting Israeli and Russian leaders, President and Mrs. Bush asked us—every day: Can we walk your dogs? Please let us clean up after lunch. How can we be helpful?

As Hap knows far better than me, that is who they both were.  And all of us who had the privilege of working for them respected them and loved them for it.

A final note on tonight’s program.  This house is being named this evening for an American President but also for a First Lady.

Barbara Bush was a force in her own right in the United States and on the international stage and, like all spouses overseas, female or male, an unpaid volunteer for the U.S. government when she and her husband lived in this house.  She deserves, decades later, to have her own name on the plaque honoring them outside the front door.

George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush inspire us still today—leaders of professionalism, of dignity and of grace.

We honor them this evening.

We thank them for their extraordinary service to our country.

We remember them as diplomatic pioneers in this house.

We hope that we might follow their example in our own time of being careful stewards of the U.S.-China relationship, so vital then, as it is now, for stability and for peace in our world.

Thank you.