Few would disagree with Victor Zhikai Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, that the most important bilateral relationship in the world today is that between the two largest economies, China and America. Kaiser Kuo of Baidu argues that the relationship is in good shape, with continued mutual reliance as trading partners. He cautioned, however, that relations between the two nations were complex and volatile.
Kuo attributes this to the rise of the Internet. As China has continued to grow economically, its people have become more computer-literate and their level of English continues to improve. Chinese netizens are able to read some of the things written about their country on the Internet, and have been unpleasantly surprised.
In recent months, there have been two prominent voices on the extremes, the kind of figures that are defined in American slang as “wing-nuts.” Billionaire businessman and hitherto presidential contender Donald Trump blames trade imbalance with China for America’s economic predicament. On the other extreme, a recent lecture by Dr. Fang Binxing cautioned a graduating class at Beijing University of Posts & Telecommunications, that China must grow strong, and be wary of Western influence, criticizing the West for its intervention in Libya, and accusing the West of meddling in China’s internal affairs. “A weak country will be bullied,” he claimed.
Both countries have their share of aggressive xenophobes that Kaiser Kuo categorized as red necks and red guards. American election campaigns are not averse to singling out a foreign bogeyman and blaming it for America’s problems. In the past, this has included Muslims and Russians. On opening his first microblog, Fang was bombarded with hate-mail, showing just how unpopular is his attitude toward foreign influence. His speech to the graduating class sounds like that of a paranoid parent, convinced that evil forces from the outside world will come for his child if he leaves it alone for one minute
The first of three things that ought to be remembered is that neither country wants the other to fail, because neither can afford this. The two countries are indispensable partners. If China’s economic progress stalls, the ramifications for China itself could be serious, but the impact would also be devastating for the outside world. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson argues that the future prosperity of America and China depends on China’s successful integration into the world economy. About two-thirds of China’s foreign currency reserves are denominated in dollars. Any abrupt shift on the part of Beijing would threaten the stability of the U.S. currency.
The second truth is that America should not be used as a lazy synonym for “the West.” Businessman and Forbes journalist Shaun Rein is notorious for this. His frequent description of “the West” as a single entity with shared culture and shared desires suggests that France, Poland and America are more or less the same in government and culture. To anybody with any experience of the differences between these countries, this is clearly not true. Therefore, to blame the decisions of the Nobel committee on "the West" is sloppy at best.
This brings me to the third fact. The two countries have considerable similarities as well as differences. Both have education systems that instill patriotism in their young. In both countries, this patriotism tends not to be based on the experience of traveling to other parts of the world, because a minority of the population owns a passport. In the Chinese media, America is portrayed as a wealthy country with many admirable qualities, but also a decadent and hyper-sexualized society that should not be completely imitated. In the American media, Europe is portrayed the same way. American travel writer Peter Hessler claims he felt more at home in Beijing than he did while studying at Oxford.
Therefore, this is an issue on which it is tempting to vilify, but ultimately now is not the time to be following the wing-nuts. It’s better to listen to the middle-nuts.