A different way to nurture U.S.-China relations

14:24, November 18, 2009      

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"Can I do it differently?" This is the question U.S. President Barack Obama encouraged young Chinese to ask constantly in their pursuit of individual success as he shared with college students his personal experiences in Shanghai early this week.

The same question may help China and the United States to open the door toward a healthier collective future.

For a long time, the real China has been misunderstood by westerners because of either ignorance or ideological stand or other reasons, and the word of China seemed to have often been connected with something evil or dangerous.

The West's perception of China has been changing gradually, and a positive turn has occurred as Obama has said more than once during his ongoing Asia tour that the United States would not seek to contain China' s rise but welcome China as a strong and prosperous player in the community of nations.

Be it an expedience to solicit China's support in time of the worst recession in decades or a willing-hearted strategic decision, the remarks have forged a good starting point to further Chinese-U.S. ties as the Obama administration has made it clear that the two nations, sharing much in common while being different in certain ways, were not predestined to be adversaries.

Such mentality is just what ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius taught his students to pursue thousands of years ago: "Be harmonious yet different."

Probably just a minor event in the eyes of many Americans, the adoption of a resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives late last month to honor the 2,560th anniversary of the birth of Confucius did hearten many Chinese.

And Disney, a symbol of American pop culture and from which generations of American kids have drawn happiness, is expected to land in the Chinese mainland as a Shanghai project has been recently approved by the Chinese government.

Such coincidence surely will help mend the cultural gap and to break down prejudices between peoples of the two countries.

Without an open mind and a pragmatic way of thinking to change for the good of the people, the Chinese people couldn't have gone such far in either poverty elimination or economic development. But along its way to retrieve its national pride, China faces a severe task of having itself better understood so as to defuse unnecessary disputes and practice what Confucius advocated "being harmonious yet different."

Many westerners do not realize China's gigantic internal gap in wealth, regional development and public utilities. Some take Shanghai and Beijing for what the whole China is like, others think the Chinese only refer to the Han nationality.

In this sense, China needs to think and act differently, by telling the world more of its less developed areas and thinking more of herself from the perspectives of others.

The United States, on the other hand, may also need to be introspective and take initiatives to figure out effective new ways to tackle its own chronical problems.

Given that the U.S. jobless rate hit a record high of 10.2 percent in October, a lot of internal pressure in the country might once again target China as a source of the problem.

And with the next mid-term elections approaching in the United States, American trade partners, especially China, might have to face more finger-pointing and protectionism, which would be detrimental to bilateral relations and global economic recovery.

To avoid turning back to the same old page of history, it might be time for the United States to go back to the premier question and think what it could do differently.

Instead of blaming others for its unemployment, for example, the United States could create jobs by expanding export, such as boosting high-tech products to China.

To embark on an unbeaten path on developing bilateral relations, however, it needs not only political wisdom, but also trust, sufficient respect and a broad public understanding of the real China.

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