In order to address a wide range of today’s major global issues it is “absolutely critical” to focus on the Sino-American bilateral relationship, according to CU-Boulder's Timothy Weston.
Weston, an associate professor of history and associate director of the Center for Asian Studies, believes that solutions to complex and challenging issues such as weapons of mass destruction proliferation, terrorism, international trade disagreements, intellectual property rights, cyber security, and climate change will necessitate increased Sino-American cooperation going forward. “For such cooperation to occur,” Weston says, “it is essential that there be greater trust between the United States and China, which in turn means that we need to better understand one another in all of our various complexities.”
One opportunity to learn about Sino-American relations is at this year’s CHINA Town Hall event (Hosted by CU’s Center for Asian Studies on Monday, Oct. 28, at 5 p.m. in Hale 270. The event is free and open to the public). The event will feature a live webcast with Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, and the first woman to hold that position. Melinda Herrold-Menzies, an associate professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College, will make an on-site presentation on Sino-American relations as it relates to the challenge of the environment and climate change. This will be the seventh CHINA Town Hall (the fourth at CU-Boulder), an annual event that is produced and sponsored by the New York-based National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR).
Weston, an expert on modern China, has worked with the NCUSCR for the past several years. Over the summer, he accompanied a bipartisan group of Congressional communication directors on a weeklong educational trip to China, arranged by the NCUSCR in cooperation with the Chinese National People’s Congress. As the scholar escort for the delegation his duty was to provide insight about modern Chinese history and contemporary Chinese society to the members of the delegation.
Among the communication directors on the trip were those who work for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.
“It’s really crucial that China and the United States have ongoing multi-level communications to enable the best understanding possible, as well as ongoing professional relationships, and personal friendships,” said Weston. “I tried to initiate discussions of broad interest to the Americans on the trip and suggested that conventional American frames of reference don’t always apply well to China. It is crucial that we take Chinese viewpoints and concerns very seriously going forward.”
Weston believes that the Chinese culture and history tells a rich, complex story that’s often not well understood. He says that China does not want to be viewed simply as a threat that should be feared by the United States, a point that came through loud and clear in the remarks made by the Chinese government officials who met with the delegation of communication directors in August.
“I think many in Congress are paranoid about China, fixated on the fact that it is run by the Communist Party, and that it’s a rising economic and political power,” said Weston. “The question is often framed in terms of 'is there room in the world for two superpowers?' What the Chinese tell us over and over again is that they’re not seeking to displace us. They want to work together. On the Chinese side, they’re concerned that the Americans don’t understand the complexity of their history and its relationship to China’s contemporary moment. They worry that Americans are unable to appreciate how the world looks through Chinese eyes.”
Weston believes that China’s rise does present many challenges and that its emergence as a major power on the world stage is fraught with potential dangers, especially because China’s internal problems are massive and many. He also is concerned that Americans know far less about China than do the Chinese about the United States.
One area where this disparity is very clear is in language ability. In China all school children study English, but in the United States virtually none study Chinese. “Right now, there are some 200,000 Chinese students at American universities,” Weston said. “By comparison, there are 15,000 American students in China. I think that’s a major problem. President Obama has acknowledged as much with his ‘100,000 Strong Initiative,’ which aims to dramatically increase the number of American students in China over the next few years.”
Weston has published a number of works on modern China, including his recent co-edited collection of essays, "China in and beyond the Headlines." He hopes that this year’s CHINA Town Hall meeting will bring an even better turnout than last year and encourages interest in and discussion of Sino-American relations.