You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Jun 13, 2013 : 8 p.m.

Future relationship of China, U.S. will be delicate dance for the countries

By Tom Watkins

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."


Could U.S. and Chinese leaders become more intertwined in the near future?

AP photo

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.   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.



Fri, Jun 14, 2013 : 12:37 a.m.

Ya, we're waltzing right into their trap. Why are we so dumb?

David Briegel

Fri, Jun 14, 2013 : 12:30 a.m.

But, I thought Ronnie won the Cold War! What happened? Why do American, supposedly civilized and christian corporations, require the "values" of an uncivilized nation that provides child labor, slave labor, prison labor, plunders the natural resources and pollutes the environment? Are those perhaps our values? I think you could do an entire column on those subjects with all your experience.

Bill Wilson

Sun, Jun 16, 2013 : 6 p.m.

ArborC, Don't confuse David with the facts. How unreasonable of you to expect him to have proof of the things he says.


Fri, Jun 14, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

Funny, I'm looking through the Reagan diary book right now and can't find that comment. Citation please. I am finding references to "evil empire" and "ash heap of history" referring to their system, complete with the state apparatus of control included (that would be KGB). So we are back where we started - beyond "Ronnie" comments David, what was/is your next steps towards engagement?

David Briegel

Fri, Jun 14, 2013 : 2:59 a.m.

Like I said, you could share the "values of our supposedly civilized and christian corporations" and provide their required "child labor, slave labor, prison labor, etc". But you knew all that! And remember when Ronnie said the KGB should rule the Soviet Union/Russia?


Fri, Jun 14, 2013 : 2:20 a.m.

"I thought Ronnie won the Cold War! What happened? Well you could start by getting your history straight and ask citizens of Hungary, Poland, Germany etc. how they feel about the results. Then you could also delve into the old saying "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and examine the Stalin-Mao split and what US foreign policy was crafted to exploit it. You could also put yourself in the Chinese politburo post USSR meltdown and figure out what you'd need to do to maintain power after the "other half" of socialism/communism was proven to be a failure and collapsed. Armed with that knowledge, then you could craft US policy towards either accommodation, influence, change, or confrontation. You are off to a good start with your values questions. Or... You could make "Ronnie" comments.