Congressional leaders still ignorant about China, Sino-US expert says

By Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-11-12 11:07
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Congressional leaders still ignorant about China, Sino-US expert says

WASHINGTON - Fewer than five out of the more than 500 members of Congress have "really good understanding" about China, a leading expert on Sino-US ties said.

Chi Wang, the 78-year-old co-chairman of the US-China Policy Foundation (USCPF), said that most of them rely on aides when formulating policy on China.

And many of those young staffers are also ignorant about China, Wang told China Daily in his office near the Library of Congress, where he retired as the head of Chinese Section in 2004.

"There is an urgent need to better inform the policymakers about China," he said.

Since the foundation was set up in 1995, it has been holding seminars and arranging trips to China for congressmen and women.

Although Wang came to the US in 1949 at the age of 17, his love for China has never faded.

Wang joined forces with Arthur Hummel, a former ambassador to China, and John Holdridge, who played a significant advisory role in the Nixon administration's attempt to forge diplomatic ties with China, to establish the public educational non-profit organization, devoted to improving US-China policy.

Wang said that because of different political and cultural histories, misunderstanding and misconception toward each other still exist and will cause more disputes and conflicts when the two nations witness a new era of the bilateral relations.

Initially, the foundation organized lunches for the Congressional staff and senior government officials to brief them about hot issues in bilateral relations.

"It was well received on the Hill and later even the people from the State Department and Treasury Department began to join our discussions," Wang said.

But without first-hand experience of China, it is still difficult for Americans to understand such a large, ancient and diversified country.

Three years after its founding, with the approval of the State Department, the USCPF led the first group of Congressional staff on a week-long trip to China.

Since then, annual visits have been organized to explore the historical, economic and security issues facing China, and the state of US-China relations.

Participants would also meet officials of the central and local governments, visit State-owned and joint venture enterprises and tour several major cities.

Last year, the theme of the tour was energy and climate change. The delegation has visited Inner Mongolia and Dunhuang, a major stop on the ancient Silk Road, in Gansu province.

"Most of them have never been to China and the trip always leaves them good impression about the country and its people," Wang said.

As a professor of US-China relations at Georgetown University, Wang knows the importance of education in promoting understanding between the two cultures.

"A student from Kansas told me that people in the South and Midwest have no idea about China because their middle school history teachers also have zero knowledge about it," he said.

So the foundation worked with the Sidwell Friends School, a prestigious private school in Washington DC, to lead a teachers' delegation to China last year.

But Wang said the past 15 years of work is only a "new beginning".

"The mission needs more support from all walks of life," he said.

The foundation will hold a dinner to celebrate its 15th anniversary on Monday at Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington DC.

China Daily