Beijing - Twice in two days, US Vice-President Joe Biden recounted a chat with former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on the secrets behind America's ability to constantly remake itself.
The key ingredients are the country's openness to new things and diversity, and a willingness to challenge the status quo, he said.
He was speaking to Chinese citizens who were at the United States Embassy in Beijing yesterday to apply for American visas.
Mr Biden first mentioned the chat with Mr Lee at a forum in Tokyo on Tuesday. The two men met when Mr Biden was in Singapore in July.
Mr Lee had told him, he said, that countries are "in America looking for your black box", referring to a device in aircraft that records flight data.
"We're trying to find out what allows America to remake itself every other generation," Mr Lee had said. "Not good or bad, just remake itself."
In response, Mr Biden said he cited two things that underpin his country's ability to do so.
First, the "constant stream of new immigrants, new cultures, new religions" that revive the spirit of America; and second, "an inherent rejection of orthodoxy" stamped in the DNA of every American.
"Children in America are rewarded, not punished, for challenging the status quo," he said yesterday, as he welcomed "bright, intelligent and innovative young people to go to the US".
"You'll find us the least xenophobic country in the world. I hope you learn innovation can only occur where you can breathe free, challenge the government, challenge religious leaders."
Tokyo and Beijing are the first two stops of Mr Biden's three-nation visit this week. He flies to Seoul today.
At the Tokyo forum on women in the Japanese economy, Mr Biden had said "the most important orthodoxy to challenge around the world is the orthodoxy that says somehow, women have a limited role".
"I've said this many times... I personally will not rest till my four granddaughters have every single, solitary opportunity my grandson has."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.