The Rumi Forum presented “China and the Muslim Peoples of the Middle East with Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr.
Tuesday, December 15th
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Distant as they are from each other, the peoples of the Middle East and China have interacted since well before Islam. In 650 C.E., the then Caliph sent one of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions as an emissary to the newly established Tang Dynasty. That date marks the beginning of Islam in China. Muslims have ever since played a prominent role in Chinese society. As the example of the great Ming, Muslim Admiral Zheng He attests, some of them have also been active in sustaining Chinese contact with Arabs, Persians, Turks, and other Muslim peoples. This cross-cultural liaison was, of course, interrupted by the reorientation of international relations imposed by Western colonialism. The post-colonial era in the Middle East and the return of China to wealth and power are fostering its resumption.
The Prophet Mohammed advised Muslims to “seek knowledge even unto China,” but it would be fair to say that Islam is far more familiar to Chinese than Chinese culture is to Arabs, Berbers, Kurds, Persians, Somalis, and Turks. Official statistics count about 25 million active Muslims in China. Much evidence suggests that the number of Chinese who consider themselves Muslim is well over 100 million. Meanwhile, some of the several hundred thousand Chinese now working in the Arab world will take Middle Eastern versions of Islam home with them. They have converted. There are already 3,500 Koranic schools, nine Islamic universities, and at least 28,000 mosques in today’s China. There will now be more, with additional schools of thought associated with them.
After thirty years of service as a member of the United States Foreign Service, Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. succeeded Senator George McGovern as President of the Middle East Policy Council in December 1997. He served in that role until February 2009, when he resigned to accept an insistently reiterated request that he return to government to chair the U.S. National Intelligence Council. Following the leak of his appointment and a campaign of public vilification by rightwing elements of the American Israel Lobby, he withdrew his acceptance of the job. He said that he judged that the task of restoring credibility to the analytical product of the US intelligence community could not be accomplished in the face of continuing unscrupulous, politically motivated, personal attacks on him.
Chas Freeman was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs 1993-94, earning the highest public service awards of the Department of Defense for his roles in designing a NATO-centered post-Cold War European security system and in reestablishing defense and military relations with China. He served as U. S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm) 1989-92. He was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs 1986-89, during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.
Chas. Freeman served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’affaires in the American embassies at both Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984). He was Director for Chinese Affairs at the U.S. Department of State 1979-1981. He was the principal American interpreter during President Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in 1972. In addition to his Middle Eastern, African, East Asian and European diplomatic experience, he served in India 1966-68.
Ambassador Freeman earned a certificate in Latin American studies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, certificates in both the national and Taiwan dialects of Chinese from the former Foreign Service Institute field school in Taiwan, a BA magna cum laude from Yale University and a JD from the Harvard Law School. He is the recipient of numerous high honors and awards. He is the author, inter alia, of The Diplomat’s Dictionary and Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy both published by the United States Institute of Peace.
In April 2009, Ambassador Freeman resumed his present position as Chairman of the Board of Projects International, Inc., a Washington-based business development firm that for nearly forty years has specialized in arranging international private-sector joint ventures, acquisitions, and other business operations for its American and foreign clients. Until February 2009, in addition to his role as president of the Middle East Policy Council, he also served as Co-Chair of the United States-China Policy Foundation, as Vice Chair of the Atlantic Council of the United States, and as a member of the boards of the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Washington World Affairs Council, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. He is currently a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a member of several corporate, university, and non-profit advisory boards.
Ambassador M. Osman Siddique served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Fiji Islands with concurrent accreditations to the Kingdom of Tonga, the Republic of Nauru, and the Government of Tuvalu from 1999-2001. Prior to his appointment as the United States Ambassador, he was the Chairman/CEO of a major US Corporation, an entrepreneur and a community leader. Ambassador M. Osman Siddique combines an outstanding professional background with a powerful understanding of both domestic and foreign policy issues. Privileged to be the first American Muslim and the first American of South Asian descent to serve as the United States Ambassador, M. Osman Siddique has exhibited outstanding leadership abilities. As demonstrated in his distinguished business and diplomatic career, Ambassador Siddique is in a unique position to bridge the cross-cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, necessary in dealing with the important issues which the US faces with many Asian and Islamic nations. The current geopolitical reality lends credence to his ability to resolve problems emanating from concerns that border on the fringes of misperception, mistrust and miscommunication.