Take a look at this refreshingly original and too-true opinion piece on how China understands us way better than we understand them. It’s really a breath of fresh air at a time when we’re bombarded daily with alarmist “China threat” warnings. A healthy excerpt:
We’re losing the intelligence war against China.
No, not the one with spy satellites, human operatives and electronic eavesdropping. I’m talking about intelligence : having an intelligent understanding of and intelligent discussions about China — where it’s heading, why it’s bidding to buy major U.S. companies and whether we should worry. Above all, I’m talking about formulating and pursuing intelligent policies for dealing with China.
The Chinese government today understands America much better than our government understands China. Consequently, the Chinese government is much better at pulling our strings than we are at pulling theirs. China’s top leaders, diplomats and bureaucrats have a clear framework from which they view the United States, and they are focused and unified in formulating and implementing their policies toward us.
In contrast, our government’s viewpoint on China is unfocused, fractured and often uninformed. Is China still the Red Menace of the Cold War or a hot new competitor out to eat our economic lunch? Both views as well as a hodgepodge of other interpretations can be found in the halls of the White House, Congress and the Pentagon. Add to that confusion a vicious domestic political culture that brooks no compromise, and the chances of formulating a coherent China policy approach nil.
Playing the barbarians off against each other has been a core tenet of Chinese foreign policy since the imperial dynasty days when China’s maps depicted a huge landmass labeled the “Middle Kingdom” surrounded by tiny islands labeled England, Germany, France, America, Russia and Africa. China was the center of the world and everyone else was a barbarian. That’s why the Chinese are delighted by spectacles such as when rival members of a U.S. congressional delegation screamed at one another in front of their Chinese hosts in the Great Hall of the People. And what should they think of the time top Chinese officials laid out clear policy objectives to an American business audience and a U.S. cabinet member responded by saying “Jesus loves the Chinese people”?
Read the whole thing, as we like to say — I haven’t seen such an intelligent article in the mainstream media on China and how the US perceives it in a longtime. The author, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in China James McGregor, sees things with an unusual clarity and honesty. While chiding us for our propagandized image of China as bogeyman, he also reocgnizes China for what it is, a rising power struggling to keep its head above water and nothing even close th being the superpower to which it aspires. At least not yet.
Still, China isn’t even a fraction as powerful as it pretends to be. Beneath the bluster, it is a nation beset with internal problems. Pollution chokes its air and water. The growing gap between the haves and have-nots and rampant government corruption are triggering almost daily demonstrations. And China has no ideology other than enriching itself. The relentless commercial drive that has shaken China out of its imperial and socialist stupor has now become an end unto itself, leaving a population that is spiritually adrift.
It’s nice to see some balance. America has to relax. We are not in danger. And China has a lot of growing up to do. The country’s growing and getting better but it’s a mess. And as the writer says, China understands us way better than we do them. They pull our strings every day, and we react like automatons. We don’t need to.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.