TOPICS : The real US deficit with China — knowledge

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 US 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. 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.

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.

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 characterisation 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 localised, or submerged. Third, Tiananmen Square in 1989 is an iconic image that lingers in the minds of the Chinese. US observers’ obsession with this tragic event reflects how deep their perception gap about China runs. There is no question that what happened that summer was historic. However, it was a generation ago, and sea changes have occurred since then.

For at least two decades, tens of thousands of the best and the brightest Chinese students attend American’s top-tier graduate schools, channeling back the most updated perceptions and information about the US. Although the number of American students studying in China witnessed a huge jump over the past few years, the accumulated knowledge deficits and language barriers are still immense.

This imbalance of knowledge, just like the imbalance of trade, is unsustainable. With the trade problem, Chinese leaders outlined a “win-win partner” scenario, and American policymakers have mapped out the “responsible stakeholder” blueprint. However, no strategy will be feasible if the two parties cannot understand each other well enough to weather the uncertainties ahead. It is highly probable that the next generation of Americans will live in a world where China is the largest economic power. Are they prepared? When and how are they going to fix this current knowledge deficit with China? — The Christian Science Monitor