The US and China have long held a relatively dim view of each other. In a recent article I read that less than half of the Chinese polled currently have a favorable view of the US and even fewer Americans (38%?) have a favorable view of China.
This is pretty perplexing on the face of it. Where would China be today if the US had not entered WWII? And although China has lifted 300 million citizens out of poverty in a single generation they certainly could not have done so without trade with the US. Conversely, the US would have had all sorts of macro-economic problems if the Chinese had not been willing to hold all of that US dollar denominated debt.
Sure, there was the conflict on the Korean Peninsula and the US paid an awful price in Vietnam trying to stop what it saw as the inevitable spread of Communism. But President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Deng Xiaoping pretty much changed all that. China has operated its international policy on the basis of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations for decades now and has shown not one iota of desire to upend the world order.
We certainly can’t blame religion. There is Taoism and Chinese Folk Religion in China today but there is Protestantism and Catholicism as well. The Communist Party may not officially recognize religion but English is not the official language of the US either. In fact it has no official language.
But I’m being too practical.
When my Chinese wife told her mother that we were going to be married, she was happy for her daughter but reminded her, “Remember, you can never trust an American.” And she has never even met one, having spent her entire life in a small city in the Dongbei region of Northeast China.
And I’ve talked to many Chinese who visited the US, and while they found the people they met to be friendly on the surface, they always felt just a whiff of discrimination below the skin.
As I’ve noted in my newest book, “Understanding China,” Americans have a deductive worldview. I knew an American business executive who ran a global company and the biggest compliment he could give a foreign partner was, “They’re just like us.” Which is exactly why we have so little legitimate diversity in the US today. A lot of Americans think like that. It’s an outgrowth of the overriding belief in the value of the “melting pot” concept.
In the end, however, there is no real value in the melting pot. There is value in getting along and respecting our differences. But diversity is far more powerful than homogeneity. Just ask The Stepford Wives.
As always, the real difference for the distrust is perspective. The Chinese, for the life of them, can’t comprehend why the US wants to be involved in the South China Sea, even though most Chinese have never sailed on it and have not a clue what importance it plays in the flow of world trade.
And there are many Americans who continue to believe that China is responsible for the continued polarization of wealth in America through the elimination of good US manufacturing jobs although it is the US government itself that has allowed that to happen. (And even to the extent they have, the Chinese people have paid a terrible price in terms of ecological degradation, which the shoppers at Walmart don’t see when they see those wonderful prices they enjoy.)
China has given the US a whole lot of Chinese food (although not the fortune cookie, which is an American invention) but America has given the Chinese processed snack food that is quickly resulting in a growing obesity problem among children similar to that experienced in the US.
What is the answer? The same as always – an open mind. Unfortunately, technology and social media – through politics – are hardening the deductive worldview of the West while economic development is, somewhat ironically, hardening the inductive worldview of China. (We’re doing fine; we don’t need your support.)
When I was a young boy mumbletypeg was a common pastime. (Remember, I grew up in a small rural town where an older couple three houses down ran a store where the wife sold penny candy in the front of the store and the husband sold guns in the rear of the store – with no barriers in between.) It involved throwing a knife in the ground between two players.
World powers play a version of that game yet today. And certainly China and the US are no exceptions. It’s a game of some skill and bravado but more than anything else it is a game of knowing your limitations – where the line in the sand is for the other side – and for you.
For me the line in the sand is pretty straightforward when it comes to relations between China and the US.
- We both need each other equally economically so that is not a flash point.
- Tibet is off the table and until the US gives California back to Mexico it will be a non-issue of significance in America.
- Taiwan is also a non-issue. Taiwan has already invaded Mainland China economically and there is no way the separatists will ever gain political traction in Taiwan.
- The South China Sea is a line in the sand. China will not back down and I see no benefit to the US in getting involved until China disrupts the flow of trade there and I honestly don’t see that happening. What would they gain?
- The same with territorial disputes with Japan. There is nothing for the US or Japan to gain there so any saber-rattling by the US on behalf of Japan will only heighten tensions in the region.
My mother-in-law may never trust Americans. But at least she has kept an open mind and in typically inductive fashion put the happiness of her daughter before her political views.
I think there is a lot to learn there and I certainly intend to keep it that way.
Note: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.
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