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Opinion

The real US deficit with China – knowledge

As China returns as a world power, Americans should update their impressions.

By Xu Wu / May 1, 2008



Tempe, Arizona

Americans are out of touch with today's China. It's a knowledge deficit that carries more weight in the long-term bilateral relationships between China and the United States than the ballooning US trade deficit with China. And as China makes a comeback on the world stage, it's one that the US should address.

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Chinese visitors to the US have shared the shock of witnessing a severe dichotomy between how much Americans seem to talk about China and yet how little they know about it. The US status as the world's superpower, coupled with its location, warrants people this type of benign negligence.

But what about those experts who have the power to impose their perceptions of China on others? All too often China experts in the US cannot even speak the language. How can they claim to understand a culture without knowing how its people communicate?

This knowledge deficit accounts directly for widespread and deep-rooted misperceptions about China.

There are three faulty, recurring talking points in the American media.

First, China is a rising power, and a rising power is dangerous. The first part of this argument is incomplete, and the latter part is misplaced. China is not only a rising power; it is a returning power. China, as a united continental power, has existed for more than 2,000 years.

As a returning player, China is composed, restrained, and mature, just like a former champion returning to the title game after a short lapse. Also, if history is any guide, Chinese-ruling regimes have not been considered aggressive or expansive; they were famous for building walls. This fact alone should call into question the comparison of China's current resurgence with Japan's and Germany's disastrous rising path before World War II.

Second, China is a Communist country, and Communism is evil. Repeatedly placed upon China by media commentators, most notably CNN's anchorman Lou Dobbs, this characterization is both simplistic and utterly misleading.

To today's China, Marxism is as foreign as liberal democracy. When you look back at China's past, no alien cultures have uprooted Chinese tradition; instead, they were either localized, or submerged. China can still be Chinese without the Communism title.

Likewise, today's ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could easily be renamed the Chinese Confucian Party (CCP) without changing much of its ideological belief or organizational structure, or even its acronym for that matter.

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