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Exchanges correct myths about China-US ties

By Zhao Minghao | 2015-08-18 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The English-language musical, The Princess and the Pea, co-produced by Chinese and US children’s theaters, was staged in Beijing on Aug. 8-9. The drama was included in the list of joint outcomes of the sixth round of China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange.


At the end of July, the sixth round of the China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange was held in Washington. As many as 119 deals were reached between China and the US on education, science and technology, culture, health care, sports, women and youth.

However, compared to the praise showered on the fruitful results of the seventh China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which addressed such key issues as Internet security and the South China Sea disputes, the headway made in the consultation on people-to-people exchange received less attention. Therefore, as the increasingly important relationship between China and the US approaches a new phase of transition, it is crucial to examine people-to-people and cultural exchanges, which can serve as a supplement to the somewhat sensitive bilateral partnership.     

New round of China-related debate
In April this year, a key American think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, issued a report Revising US Grand Strategy Toward China co-authored by Robert Blackwill, a senior fellow for US Foreign Policy, and Ashley Tellis, a notable scholar of strategic issues. According to the report, China represents and will remain the most significant competitor to the US for decades to come.


As such, Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that emphasizes balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy. This is considered a suggestion that the US government should adjust its foreign policy toward China from “engagement” to “containment.”

Breaking from the tone of the report, famous expert on Asian studies and senior research fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Michael Swaine has called for the US to continue to engage with a rising China. He argued that the US should reconsider its “absolute superiority” in the Western Pacific region and decide whether to maintain it. Swaine called for adaptation to the shifting power that is shaping a new regional landscape, and contended that China and the US could achieve a balance of power through step-by-step negotiation and cooperation.

Jeffrey Bader, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution echoed Swaine, insisting that the change of policy toward China would mean “seeking an enemy” for the US and if relations between the two countries were to worsen, and it would “make the most stable, ordered, and economically vigorous region a conflict zone,” which is, undoubtedly, not in US national interest.

Apparently, a new round of debate over the foreign policy toward China that has been going on in the strategic management circle of the US, is increasingly influenced by the anticipation of the upcoming 2016 US presidential election. It will bring more concern over China issues among common American people, and possibly more allusions to the “China threat.”

On July 6, an article titled “Why 2016 Candidates Should Worry More about China” was posted on the website of the CNN that argued China issues pose more challenges to the US than issues related to Russia or other countries. In a discussion on the possible challenges from the international society that the next US president will face, attendees to the consultation noted that the international environment that the US faces today is undergoing structural adjustment, which decides that the next US president has to attach great importance to the realistic risks that may be engendered by a conflict with emerging powers like China and Russia.

Some experts from US think tanks tend to have a passive attitude toward China issues and bilateral relations. It is still unknown to what extent the negative tone reflects the public opinion of American people. In recent years, some fictitious claims, like the contention that China is implementing reform without opening-up, have been propagated in American business circles, and some US-funded enterprises in China complain about the deteriorating business environment.

As a result, there are rumors of “biased law” and “economic nationalism” enforced by the Chinese government on foreign-funded enterprises. Furthermore, some scholars from American think tanks often claim that China is coercing the Asian allies of the US or that China is reshaping the international and regional order. Such groundless allegations, if uncontrolled, would definitely be detrimental to the social environment and public support of a new type of China-US relations. 

However, the frictions, tensions and rifts between China and the US have been amplified while “the other side of the coin”—the fact that people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries are growing closer and bilateral cooperation in multiple fields is expanding—has been neglected.

For the past nine years, China-US trade volume has doubled, with China becoming one of the fastest-growing export markets for the US. The Rhodium Group, a US consulting corporation that is dedicated to studying China’s investment in the US, predicts in its report that by 2020, the cumulative investment of Chinese enterprises in the US will reach $100 billion to $200 billion, which will create 200,000 to 400,000 jobs. As many as 10,000 people travel between the two countries every day. There is one takeoff or landing of flights between the two countries every 17 minutes. Mutual visits between Chinese and Americans in 2015 are expected to reach 5 million.

What is noteworthy is that China-US people-to-people and cultural exchanges, while playing an effective role in responding to global challenges, are benefiting other countries and regions in the world. Last year, when an Ebola epidemic of unprecedented severity broke out, China and the US joined forces to address the humanitarian crisis. Dispatching experts as well as sharing information, codes and guides about Ebola, the two countries collaborated effectively to deliver health care services. When China’s goods and materials arrived in the disaster-stricken Liberia, US soldiers helped unload and carry them to the target site, fulfilling the task of rescue.

Approval from silent majority
It is worth pondering the fact that while some scholars from American think tanks are pessimistic about  future China-US relations, there is a healthy amount of exchanges and cooperation at the grassroots level  between the two countries. This means that the landscape of China-US relations is becoming increasingly rich and complicated.


In this context, the relationship should not be arbitrarily simplified. The people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two sides should be integrated into their strategic and economic ties to vigorously counter the skeptical tone of some scholars on China-US relations and encourage the silent majority of ordinary people to give their approval to the partnership.

In detail, the people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two should provide the platform for the experts and specialists to openly discuss functional issues and encourage them to be better informed of the overall condition and trend of China-US relations and to broaden their vision on policies as well as improve their awareness on in-depth issues, such as national governance and value. In addition, people-to-people and cultural exchanges ought to help correct the myths that permeate China-US relations and be closely tied with strategic issues that affect the bilateral relations instead of allowing negative voices to dominate the dialogue. To realize this, more effective communication between think tanks of the two countries is necessary. It is inadvisable that the dialogue among think tanks turn into a tool for repetitive publicity or the school of its own.

As Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong said at the consultation on people-to-people exchanges, one of the main functions of China-US people-to-people and cultural exchanges is to allow the common people of the two countries access to the charm of different civilizations and the inspiration of different thoughts. The China-US relationship, at this sensitive and transitional juncture, needs a stronger cultural tie with more human interest, which is also conducive for the US to precisely understand the pulse of China and the connotation of the “Chinese Dream.”

Zhao Minghao is a visiting research fellow of the Collaborative Innovation Center for Chinese Culture Going Global at Beijing Foreign Studies University.