Pacific Dialogue
Journalists and academics can do more to warm up China-U.S. relations
By Rick Dunham  ·  2022-11-28  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

These are edited excerpts of Dunham’s speech during the Cooperation & Responsibilities: China-U.S. Relations and Global Governance webinar hosted by Beijing Review on November 22: 

Before the U.S. midterm elections [on November 8], it was safe to say U.S.-China relations had hit a low ebb following three developments earlier this year: the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the U.S. blacklisting of Chinese technology companies, and the high-level congressional delegation to Taiwan. That is something the two nations must step back and recover from.

After the midterm elections, the Democrats have either held or gained seats in the Senate, so they will maintain narrow control. They lost only a handful of seats in the House of Representatives. So, I think President Joe Biden came out of it a little bit stronger on the international stage.

On the flip side, Republicans gained control of the House. The person likely to be the next Speaker of the House, Republican Kevin McCarthy, already has plans to hold hearings physically at the U.S.-Mexico border—“to make Democrats see first-hand the border disaster.”

Republicans have also promised investigations into the Chinese influence in the U.S. And I do think this will have the potential to damage U.S.-China relations if they hold months of hearings trying to embarrass China and effectively embarrass the U.S. Democratic administration and whoever may be a Democratic candidate for president next time.

So I think there will be some tension. I also agree we will see both parties talking more about the strategic competition [with China]. That leads me to something that is frequently misunderstood by Chinese analysts who try to study American politics—the idea of a continuum from one administration to another. There was a rapid change during the Trump administration. Biden has not completely rolled back everything, much to the consternation of the Chinese Government, but he has at least made a tonal difference when there are policies that continue.

When we are analyzing Washington and what’s happening in Washington with regards to China, we would think it’s ideological because people hold either one view or the other. For me, it’s more about power right now—the two parties are trying to get power, trying to do things they think will embarrass the other party and bring them power—rather than pure ideology.

I do share some optimism because if we think back to 1971, who would have thought Richard Nixon would travel to China and suddenly you would have different American views, from politicians to regular people, of China? So even though things look bad, I still believe they can change.

And I think we, as journalists and academics, can help by just trying to tell everybody that other countries are different, other peoples are different, and other cultures are different, don’t mean that they’re worse.

I don’t think Chinese or American journalists have become propagandists for their governments. I don’t think they are pawns. Younger journalists in the U.S. today feel they want to make the world a better place. So, whereas I do think they may be a bit more biased, I do not think they are U.S. Government propagandists of any sort. Most American reporters are very cynical about their national government. Many reflect in good faith the views of their readers, listeners and viewers—just like Chinese journalists.

The best way to change the hard-edge coverage we have been seeing on both sides is to expose reporters from both countries to the cultures, histories, daily life and social structure of the other. I really am a believer in person-to-person exchanges and anything that we can do to cross cultural barriers and try to explain why different cultures are different.

The author is co-director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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