Opinion | Enlightening lessons for the US primarily through the eyes of a British expatriate
By Augustus K. Yeung
Amid the tensions between China and the United States, which have got worse with the recent alleged spy saga, and the anniversary of Russia-Ukraine war, observers and experts lament, "A narrative of clashing world orders traps us in a flawed understanding."
David Dodwell is a fair-minded British businessman who has been living in Hong Kong for decades. A week ago he was sharing his experience-based insights with the Post's readers.
I too have my observation about the way the Chinese look at Americans, and how we might have treated them incorrectly.
Consider Obama. When former US President Barack Obama paid a state visit to China, I thought he was not accorded the full measures the other American presidents had been given. I remember he paid a visit to Peking University where he made a speech, but it was not televised or broadcast to the outside world, thereby limiting his influence, and certainly denying the Chinese audience of the energetic president's great charm, social grace and human decency.
Looking back, I think we Chinese might have missed the opportunity of sharing the colored American citizens'great joy as President Obama was not just a young and vibrant leader, but a colored law professor who had historically become leader of the world's most powerful man.
The insight: By failing to share the black Americans' tremendous sense of achievement, we Chinese have missed the window of opportunity of viewing and rubbing shoulders with this once oppressed social category of colored people who were now proud to have one of their kind to be the nation's leader.
As witnesses to the Presidential Inauguration, some black American leaders were so proud, so moved that they sobbed quietly, openly and uncontrollably.
Had China been able to capture this missed opportunity, we the Chinese might have won the hearts and minds of the American people, especially the "black slaves" that President Abraham Lincoln had "liberated".
In this sense, I share David Dodwell's observation and feeling of which, I have the pleasure of highlighting his narrative as follows.
Living in another culture, it's easy to spot cultural differences
"I have a chronic, deep-seated discomfort with US President Joe Biden's call for the world's democracies to wage war on autocrats and autocracies, particularly when used as a pretext to isolate and decouple from China," says David Dodwell.
"I was just 18 when I flew into Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan, to begin a year of teaching in a school full of the sons of Pathan tribesmen, plucked from a small Christian community in the British Midlands into an Islamic city in which women only appeared in burkas, most men carried rifles and opium poppies blossomed on the hillsides," narrates David Dodwell, a Hongkong-based expatriate.
"But I quickly discovered their different habits, customs and belief system served a very similar purpose to those that my very Christian parents adhered to in Britain: they enabled people to live together without constant civic conflict."
"They forged a widely held agreement on proper behavior, and how to manage the transitions and stress points in life – births, I should measure them to their effectiveness in managing the conflicts that arise in communities, and in encouraging civic-mindedness and community cooperation."
"The offensiveness of Islamic State or Russian President Vladimir Putin is not their different beliefs but that they assume a right to impose their beliefs forcibly on others…"
"I was reminded of this by my APEC colleagues from New Zealand who always blocked proposals to impose identical standards and regulations across the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping. They insisted that we respect a variety of means to reach a commonly agreed end."
How to manage differences and embrace cultural diversity?
"Differences should not just be tolerated; it should be treasured as part of life's rich tapestry, and as a critical ingredient of healthy competition. And competition between different products or services is intrinsically no difference from competition between different cultures, religions or political systems."
"Which brings us back to the Manichaean obsession in the US, which sees our world crisply divided between good and evil – democracy vs authoritarianism – and sanctions the right to wage war on that evil."
"As Biden listed, in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, the grave domestic challenges facing the US – from the proliferation of gun violence and declining trust in the police, to widening inequality, tax avoidance by billionaires and large corporations, and a costly healthcare system burdened by opioid addiction – surely he should consider the possibility that we might learn from, rather than simply challenge, other countries' ways of doing things."
"Even if their ways are profoundly different from ours, if they deliver safe, clean, healthy communities, with good education systems, worthwhile jobs, an absence of poverty, and good care for their elderly, then we need to concede we have lessons to learn [from the Chinese]." (Source: SCMP).
If these countries are inadequately transparent and intolerant of religious differences, then this simply means they also need to reflect on their shortcomings. They should respect the value of competition between different systems.
Descended from ancient civilization, modern China is socio-culturally different from the US or Britain. But so too are many world communities.
Difference is good: it's a vital force behind creativity and innovation; it's a key ingredient for competition; it becomes a negative force only when people or governments try to impose those differences on others.
If there is justice to be found in Biden's democracy vs autocracy battle against China, it must be based on a belief that Beijing is deliberately maneuvering by military means – to forcefully impose changes on communities outside China.
But there's no evidence of such maneuvering.
"The US mindset is that it can never let China make the rules and export influence and ideology," sums up Wang Yiwei, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
The author is a freelance writer; formerly Adjunct Lecturer, taught MBA Philosophy of Management, and International Strategy, and online columnist of 3-D Corner (HKU SPACE), University of Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
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