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In Texas, taking a pragmatic view of US-China relations

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-02-04 23:17

In its own way, Texas has played an important role in the shaping of US-China relations.

After all, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's putting on the cowboy hat at a Texas rodeo show has become the quintessential image symbolizing the beginning of the remarkable bilateral relationship as well as China's opening-up to the West.

It's no surprise that when the Asia Society Texas Center invited three prominent Texans with years of involvement with China to discuss 40 years of US-China relations from a Lone Star State perspective on Friday, Deng's visit to Houston was the first event reviewed and mentioned.

Charles Foster, chairman of US China Partnerships and former chairman of ASTC for years, was at the Simonton rodeo 40 years ago bearing witness to that historical moment.

David Firestein, founding executive director of the University of Texas at Austin's China Public Policy Center, said that Deng's visit to Houston set the tone for US-China relations for decades.

"It gives us hope that states and cities rather than the federal government can drive forward the relationship," he said.

Along with Neil Bush, son of the late former president George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, and Bob Harvey, Greater Houston Partnership CEO and president, the panel agreed that much has been achieved in 40 years of relations, and more will be gained.

Regarding the ongoing frictions in US-China relations, Foster said that "the problem is precisely [because of] the success of China. China has come back and tried to restore itself to what it once was. It has been so successful that it is automatically viewed as a threat by policymakers of the administration."

Bush agreed that China's rise is not a threat to the US, but rather an opportunity for the two countries to work together on human and global challenges.

"China's system of governance is right for China, and our system of governance is right for us. We shouldn't expect China to embrace ours, nor should China expect us to embrace theirs," Bush said.

Firestein considers many issues in Sino-American relations today as symptoms of a deeper civilizational and structural difference between the two nations that goes beyond the two political systems.

"The United States is a civilization rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition, while China comes from humanistic tradition. Neither is better than the other, but that makes for fundamentally different prisms of seeing the world," he said.

"The United States tends to see the world through a prism of good and evil, but China tends to see the world through a prism of yin and yang — two forces in the world, neither is better or worse, you need both in balance," Firestein said.

Such fundamental differences complicate the relationship and create structural and civilizational undercurrents that are not often seen and talked about, Firestein said.

Foster said that in his years of going to China, he understands that Chinese people are similar to Americans in their hopes.

"They have the same aspirations for a better life, family, sending their kids to college. It would be a huge mistake if we enter into another unnecessary cold war," he said.

Firestein is optimistic about the future of the two nations' economic and trade relationship "because few economies are the size and scale of the US and Chinese economies".

"When you have $650-some billion in trade, it is difficulty to decouple those relationships, and it's not in either's interest to decouple the economies. Over time, we will get it right," he said.

Consul General of China in Houston Li Qiangmin, speaking to the audience after the discussion, emphasized that bilateral relations are mutually beneficial. With so much cooperation between the two nations, "disengagement is impossible".

Alluding to the trade talks in Washington that just concluded, Li said, "I'm hopeful our two countries will reach agreement to find solution."

Contact the writer at mayzhou@chinadailyusa.com

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