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Sino-US relations crucial to all mankind

By Zhou Shuchun | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-25 07:37


As China's global English-language newspaper, China Daily has launched Vision China as a platform of communication. We invite renowned speakers from around the world to share thoughts on topics of international concern, and broadcast the event through our multimedia channels with millions of viewers tuning into the internet across the globe each time. Today's event coincides with the 40th anniversary of China-US diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China, which is days away; and therefore has special significance.

Needless to say, one of the important missions of Vision China is to help the world understand China. As you might agree, "deficit" is a hot word in the news now, and that's exactly where we want to focus our efforts. But I am not talking about the trade deficit despite the fact that it tops the agenda of the media at the moment. What I had in mind is a book published by Harvard University last year, titled The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power. In his introduction, Michael Szonyi, director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies which put together the book, argues that "China matters, and therefore that understanding China matters", "China has always mattered and always will", "but today China matters not only to the Chinese people themselves but also to Americans and to the entire world". "Just as the United States has a trade deficit with China, it also has an understanding deficit". I might not agree with everything that is said in the book, but the analogy in the preface is interesting and enlightening.

The challenge in understanding China, I suppose, varies in different times. In the past, the difficulty lied in the scanty information about China, which was poor and inward-looking. Nowadays, the opposite is true: there is so much news coverage of China, as the country has developed so fast and is so open; you see Chinese everywhere, Chinese tourists, Chinese students and Chinese companies. Forty years ago, Chinese citizens were not able to travel abroad, and owning a private passport was out of the question. Now, the Chinese make up to 160 million visits overseas a year, equivalent to almost half the US population. To put it concisely, it is not easy to understand China today because the country has changed so much.

Less than a week ago, I was in Africa, on a visit to Zambia, Namibia and Morocco, as part of a group from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and its foreign affairs committee. My impression is that our African friends are amazed by the profound changes in China. The one question they often asked is how China could have achieved so much progress within such a short period of time. Of course, during the conversation, they invariably drew a conclusion on their own, that is, it's because China has found a path of modernization that suits its conditions, or to be more exact, a governing system that promotes development, a "development-friendly model" based on international rules as some put it, or what we call "socialism with Chinese characteristics". Of course, the achievements are due to Chinese people's hard work and endurance. You might know that we need to produce 800 million shirts to buy a Boeing airplane in return.

If we take African friends as a sample for a survey, understanding China should not be much of a problem. In their eyes, China's development has transformed the lives of over 1 billion people, and changed the face and fate of the nation. The chairman of the Amadeus Institute, a leading think tank in Morocco, noted that China has created the biggest middle class in the world in a matter of decades. Forty years ago, China had about 800 million people living in poverty, which was the overwhelming majority of the population.

At the same time, China's development has made a tremendous contribution to the world. Think about it, if one-fifth of the world's population remained stuck in poverty, what would be the implications for the rest of the world? As Chinese President Xi Jinping put it, the Chinese Dream not only represents aspirations cherished by the Chinese people for nearly two centuries, ever since the Opium War that is to say; it's also the prerequisite for China to contribute to the world. In the words of African friends: a better China means a better Africa. In fact, this applies to the whole world. A simple example would be that over 30 percent of the world's economic growth in recent years has come from China.

Such a perspective helps a better understanding of China-US relations. If it's true that the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries literally changed the world 40 years ago, the future of the world's most important bilateral relationship, one between the biggest developed country and the biggest developing country, is definitely crucial not only to the two peoples, but also to humankind as a whole. This is precisely why during my travel in Africa, people kept expressing the wish that China and the US resolve their disputes and settle their differences soon and properly. The way I see it, if we could break the ice 40 years ago when there were virtually no exchanges and interaction, then in today's world of interdependence, with the two countries being each other's biggest trade partner and main investor, owning very much a piece of each other, there is absolutely no reason for the future to be going against the tracks of history, and the talk of "decoupling" is sheer nonsense.

On a personal note, back in 1993, when the Philadelphia Orchestra revisited China 20 years after their ice-breaking trip, which also served to foster US-China friendship, I covered the event as a reporter for Xinhua News Agency. And two years ago, in 2017, during the orchestra's Tour of Asia, I had the honor to collaborate with them on a charity performance. As the soloist, I played the classic Chinese violin concerto, Liangzhu, or Butterfly Lovers. Before we started, I told the audience and orchestra that 24 years earlier, when I wrote about Philadelphia's tour of China in 1993, the title of my story was "From Unfinished to New World", which came from the names of the pieces performed by the orchestra on their two visits to China, respectively Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor, known as the Unfinished Symphony, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, better known as From the New World Symphony. And by the way, I want to say thank you to Mr. Ryan Fleur, executive director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, for making a special trip for today's event. Thanks also go to Ambassador Nicolas Platt, who's also present here today, for coordinating Philadelphia's very first visit to China in 1973. And now, I'd like to end my talk by repeating what I said before our performance two years ago, that is, I'm convinced that China-US relations will move forward to accomplish the unfinished and rise to a new world!

The author is the publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily. The article is an excerpt from his address at Vision China: China-US Relations: 40 Years& Beyond held in New York City on Sept 17.

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