Friday February 21, 2020


February 14, 2012

This week, Mr. Xi Jinping of China will visit Washington, D.C., Iowa, and California. He comes as China’s vice president, but China-watchers around the globe are well aware that Xi is the president-in-waiting, and the man who will quite likely be China’s head of state for the next ten years. His visit to the U.S. is an opportunity to push the reset button on the often contentious Sino-American relationship. By making Xi feel welcomed and respected now, we can increase the odds that he will have a cordial working relationship with the American government in the future.

What we cannot do is allow any latent Sino-phobia to creep into the dialogues surrounding Xi’s visit. Americans have long been uneasy with the idea of China’s rise. To be sure, American and China have legitimate political differences over issues such as trade relations, human rights, and China’s policy towards contested regions like Taiwan. However, a great deal of America’s hostility towards China stems from fear—fear that China is replacing America as a world power, and that America will as a result become somehow irrelevant.

This fear, while understandable, is irrational. America will remain a world power, if not the world power, for the foreseeable future. Ironically, China seems much more aware of this than the U.S., as much of Chinese foreign policy calculates for reactions from and interactions with America. Meanwhile, instead of accepting the inescapable fact of China’s rise, many Americans find themselves hoping that China (or at least the threat it represents) will somehow disappear. Some Americans cling to the hope that the Chinese government will be toppled—and soon—by an uprising of its own people. If this were to happen, if an “Arab Spring” bloomed in China, the results would be catastrophic for both China and the U.S. Imagine the economic devastation that would occur if the chaos that exists in Egypt, Libya, and Syria enveloped America’s second-largest trading partner. Chinese revolution falls squarely under the purview of that old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

This Sino-phobia and the open, almost wistful predictions of a “Chinese Spring” are hardly likely to foster trust during Xi Jinping’s visit. He has come as a gesture of goodwill, and should be received with the same. Indeed, Xi’s reception this week will likely set the tone for the treatment American leaders can expect to receive upon their state visits to the People’s Republic. This is not to say that we should ignore the policy issues that divide the U.S. and China. However, such issues should be discussed honestly and respectfully, with the clear-sighted view that China as a nation will continue to work for its own benefit, just as the American government will work to protect our interests. We should expect the same treatment from China.

Further, while Xi is a statesman, he is also in part a tourist. He is interested in America, and we should make sure to show him the best side of our nation, just as we do for the millions of tourists that come to the United States each year. We want each visitor to leave with a positive impression of America—how much more so the future leader of China, who will help determine the direction of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

As a professor, as the president and co-chair of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation, and as a Chinese-American, I have always sought to promote greater understanding and trust between China and America. With this bilateral relationship becoming more vital each year, it is critical to set a positive tone by welcoming the man who will control China. The Chinese government will get a fresh start later this year, when Xi Jinping will presumably take over the presidency from Hu Jintao. The path upon which Xi will lead the government is ultimately out of our hands; the best we can do is lay the foundations for a relationship with Xi and with China built upon respect, understanding, and mutual trust. I fervently hope that those foundations are laid in the coming days.

Dr. Chi Wang is the president and chair of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation. He has been a Professor of History at Georgetown University since 1969.