Wallowing in misperceptions of China

Updated: 2013-01-25 07:25

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Wallowing in misperceptions of ChinaThe US-China Business Council, a trade association representing 240 companies in the United States, issued a report on Wednesday listing the opportunities and challenges in bilateral trade with China. It targets the new 113th US Congress, which began session on Jan 3.

The report came at the right time, since many members of the Congress, especially the 84 freshman House members and 14 new senators, have little knowledge about China. Yet many of them will sit on various House and Senate committees making decisions that impact on US-China relations.

For years, Congress, whose job approval rating is around 15 percent these days, has been the source of antagonistic noise on China-US trade. The obsession by some members to push for Chinese currency revaluation even after the yuan has appreciated more than 30 percent since 2005 has been a distraction to normal bilateral trade. A report in October by two House Intelligence Committee members on the national security threat posed by two Chinese telecom companies, Huawei and ZTE, only served to deny the mutual benefits to be gained from Chinese foreign direct investment in the US.

On Capitol Hill, where lobbyists abound, everything from China holding $1 trillion US Treasury bills to outfitting US Olympic teams with made-in-China Ralph Lauren uniforms is portrayed as a criminal act.

The lawmakers only need to spend 10 minutes reading the USCBC report and they would make more intelligent decisions regarding China in the coming years.

At the governmental level, both China and the US leaders seem to have realized that their intertwined economies mean that they must not only get along but also make the relationship work so that both can prosper.

Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary and Harvard University president, once said he could picture a 21st century in which the US and China prosper and he could picture a 21st century in which the US and China do not prosper, but he could not picture a 21st century in which one of them prospered and the other did not.

The outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in November: "We are trying to write a new answer to the old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet."

"No one should have any illusions that this will be smooth or easy. But there is reason to hope that over the coming years, we can in fact chart a path that avoids conflict and builds on the areas where our interests align," she said.

Obama's inaugural address on Monday also emphasized resolving differences with other nations peacefully.

But when I stepped into the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday afternoon for a talk on China 2013 and beyond, the rhetoric suddenly changed.

When I moved to Washington three weeks ago, I thought I could spend the rest of my life on the Massachusetts Avenue learning from the brilliant minds in the think tanks.

Yet I could not stand the one-sided panel, which contrary to Larry Summers, looked at the US-China relationship as a zero-sum game. Everything about China was either black or white, there was no shade of gray. China is acting badly, China is the source of problems and China is likely to collapse. In one word, China is evil.

I like provocative thinking and enjoy good debate. However, it isn't enlightening if you have all the participants singing the same tune, like the one on Tuesday.

If all you can cite about China are the sensational headlines in the Western news media, then you are ignorant and have nothing worth hearing.

Could it be that those AEI fellows, reputed for their conservative or neoconservative thinking, simply would not or could not say anything rosy about China?

In that sense, these "highly intelligent" pundits on Massachusetts Avenue need educating like those freshman Congressmen.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn.