Future relationship of China, U.S. will be delicate dance for the countries
China, once so far away, continues to grow closer as evidenced by last weekend’s ‘casual meeting’ between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi.
As a '60s kid growing up near our nation’s capital, China seemed like a faraway land - and if I just dug deep enough in my backyard, I’d be able to reach it. Somehow, China found its way into my nightly dinner conversation, and went something like this: "Eat your peas, children in China are starving."
China, then a far-off foreign land, still was a decade away from Nixon going to China and several decades away from beginning the process of normalizing relations with the rest of the world. Today, this one-party ruled Communist land is home to one-fifth of all humanity and on a roar.
Recently back from China, a country that has gripped my imagination since a fourth-grade teacher first exposed our class to its ancient civilization, I was sitting in a local coffee shop, when I overheard 3-year-old Lucas matter-of-factly ask his mom, "When is Michelle coming home from China — I want to play!" The question struck me as strange, but was Lucas' normal — as if Michelle (who is from China) simply had gone across town to her grandma's for the day.
What has transpired in China throughout its 5,000-year history is mind-boggling. The last 30 years have been both remarkable as well as universally acknowledged.
There was once a time when what happened in China had minimal impact on America. Those days are long gone. What happens in China today no longer stays in China as we continue to feel the ripple effects of change continuing to wash up on our shores as the 21st century unfolds. How we adapt to, as well as lead these changes, will help define our destiny.
With a 5,000-year history, China is a kaleidoscope of complexity and change. Older generation Americans remember learning about China as a backward, Communist county. But that was decades ago — long before China simultaneously modernized and opened to the world. Today, some might argue China is eating our economic lunch. Â As we ride the wave of disruptive, transformational and unpredictable global change, tech-driven ideas and jobs, can — and do — move effortlessly around the globe. China and the U.S. remain the major players as some argue the 20th century belonged to America even as China owns the 21st. Will these arguments stand the test of time? I do know our destinies are linked and we must find ways to live, work, and resolve global issues together.
Having travelled throughout China dozens of times since 1989, I have visited the more popular destinations such as Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Lhasa, (located in) Tibet, plus numerous others less popular such as Beichuan, Bengbu, Changchun, Mianyang, Turpan, Urumqi, and Wuhan. During my travels I have seen the ultra-modern as well as scenes that remind me of centuries past.
It is reported China has boosted 300-500 million people out of abject poverty following the 10-year Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. But despite all their progress, China's per capita income remains well below the world average and far behind the income levels of many developed countries.
Despite the economic success story unparalleled in modern world history, China remains a developing nation. It has rampant air and water pollution issues, political corruption, massive income inequity, a rapidly-aging population as well as religious and minority repression, among many others.
I do not raise these issues to cast aspersions on China. I raise them because the world needs China to succeed.
Crossing the river by feeling for stones
Since Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world, changes have been not unlike a rollercoaster ride on steroids. I suspect the next 30 years to be like a bumper-car ride in an earthquake.
Together, the U.S. and China should follow the cautionary approach embodied in Deng Xiaoping's phrase, "Mozhe shitou guo he" - “Crossing the river by feeling for stones."
My hope is we will continue to build the educational, economic, scientific, governmental, and people-to-people bridges between the two countries, while enhancing a friendship necessary for our two countries to prosper.
Let's move forward with our eyes wide open. Building bridges between two great nations with a clear understanding that digging moats or building "Great Walls" have never been a successful long-term strategy.
It is both the resilience and innocence of a people that defines a nation.
May the desire of little Lucas to see his Chinese friend and play nicely guide the relationship between these two great countries going forward. How this fragile relationship is managed will impact all of humanity.