Both President Hu Jintao and United States President Barack Obama on Wednesday recalled in their speeches the days when China and the US broke from their estrangement and began engaging in and improving relations despite diff erences in ideology and social systems.
While Obama quoted late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s remark that China and the US have much to cooperate on with each other, Hu went back 40 years and recollected how former US President Richard Nixon, along with then national security adviser Henry Kissinger, made his ice-breaking visit and started a relationship that changed the world.
Since then, China-US relations have weathered trials and tribulations with seven US presidents and four generations of Chinese leadership.
Nixon is long-gone. But I saw the familiar faces of Kissinger and some of his successors — George Shultz and Madeleine Albright — at Wednesday’s lunch jointly hosted by Vice-President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. They have all experienced the roller coaster in China-US bilateral relations, but have seen ties expand with the two countries more and more interdependent.
However, as a CNN commentator remarked Wednesday morning during the welcoming ceremony at the White House, perspectives from the two countries have changed over the past 30 years.
While we waited for dignitaries to arrive for a US State Department luncheon, Larry Downing, a Reuters photographer recalled the few days he spent in Beijing in 1978, covering then US Vice- President Walter Mondale’s visit.
He said he remembered staying at the Minzu Hotel, “the only tall building” on that section of the Chang’an avenue.
“The city was almost fl at, and the streets were fi lled with bicycles,” he said. “I could even hear the sounds of the bicycles rolling. That was real China.”
The photographer, who went to Beijing to cover the visit by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates early this month, ahead of President Hu’s state visit, told me “with all the tall buildings and so many cars in the streets, China is not much like China any more”.
Indeed, to many people, China has become a diff erent country, while the US has remained a superpower for the past 60 or so years.
However, whatever misgivings people may have about China’s transformation, China is now being highlighted in the US media as one that now produces more automobiles than the US, that overtook Germany to become the world’s largest exporter, that surpassed Japan to become the second largest economy in the world, that is busy upgrading its military capability, such as testing a stealth fi ghter prototype.
There have also been heated discussions over the strengths of Chinese mothers and weaknesses of American mothers after Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother became a bestselling book in the US.
Whether Chua represents Chinese mothers — who now have as many ideas to raise their children as their American peers — the book does bring China closer to home, as my friend Charlie Shiffl ett said. That is to say, Chinese and Americans have a lot more to share and learn about each other.
The notion of China and the US being adversaries is rooted in the Cold War and should have been abandoned a long time ago.
We two peoples have more pressing needs to cooperate with each other, be it global economic development or environment protection and sustainability.
Obama said in his welcoming address Wednesday morning: “We can learn from our people. Chinese and American students and educators, business people, tourists, researchers and scientists, including Chinese Americans who are here today — they work together and make progress together every single day. “
They know that even as our nations compete in some areas, we can cooperate in so many others, in a spirit of mutual respect, for our mutual benefi t.”
The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily.