When I arrived in the United States in November 1943, I was not quite three. I didn’t speak a word of English; neither did my mother, great-grandmother or my uncle that came with me to the States.
As a consequence, we didn’t know what the small sign on the small store two doors away from us read, “WE ARE CHINESE,” or that the posters of Chinese soldiers read, “Fighting for freedom.”
Within two years, I learned enough English to associate the word Chinese with children who were Chinese that I played with. They were different, they said things I didn’t understand just as they didn’t understand my Spanish. But we really liked each other. I loved their food. They loved mine.
When the war with Japan ended in August 1945, I finally learned why they had a sign on their window during the war, “WE ARE CHINESE.”
All Chinese are Asian but not all Asians are Chinese.
I didn’t know many Chinese, but I liked the ones I knew. That was tested in the 1950–51 fighting between Chinese and U.S. troops in Korea. Nevertheless, my regard for the Chinese people exploded when President Richard Nixon followed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to China to meet with the Chinese leadership. The trip was a huge success.
I, like many Americans, hoped that that meeting foreshadowed the decline and ultimate defeat of communism — at least of the Soviet version. Within 20 years, the Soviets disappeared.
Flash forward 40 years to President Donald Trump’s America, in which some Americans believe that China is the major existential threat to the United States. I think otherwise. I am not alone.
Certainly, there are problems between our two countries, but we are inextricably tied to each other with massive two-way trade. Some American jobs have left for China, while some Chinese jobs are now leaving for Southeast Asia and some are returning to North America (the United States, Canada and Mexico).
Massive trade and a large amount of U.S. Treasury bonds and notes owned by the Chinese tend to obviate ideologically-fueled problems that would otherwise fester.
American consumer-based dollars pouring into China in the past three decades has exploded per capita income in China and modernized the ancient country as if a magic wand was waved over and transformed an agricultural society thousands of years old.
Elements within China are not particularly friendly with America, but that does not include the average Chinese person working hard to become middle-class. We can live with a middle-class China.
So says President Nixon’s former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State James Baker (Semper Fi to my fellow Marine) and President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
They participated in the making of a surprisingly interesting documentary “Better Angels,” that explores challenges and opportunities of the world’s most important commercial relationship.
The big picture of China/American relations is clouded by political rhetoric of jobs leaving the United States for China and a flood of one-way dollars pouring out of the U.S. into China. The documentary goes underneath that rhetoric.
I was struck by the portrayal of generationally unemployed Alabamians working in a new Chinese-owned factory where no industry existed for 30 years; Mexican American children in South-Central Los Angeles gleefully learning from Chinese how to use an ancient Chinese abacus and doing high math with their eyes closed; and Chinese teenage boys suiting up with pads and helmets to play American football coached by a Texas-born-Mexican.
Two-time Academy Award-winning director Malcolm Clarke was able to get three former U.S. Secretaries of State to agree on importance of bettering the China/America relationship. That was a huge accomplishment.
The current political situation between nascent China and America that came out of the “American Century” is not a secret. American President Trump made trade with China a major 2016 campaign issue.
He constantly talks about the trade deficit with China as one of the country’s most important issues. President Trump, in railing against China for taking $500 billion per year from the United States, has never been correct about this issue. The deficit he attacks has never reached the level Trump claims.
What President Trump ignores is that the American people collectively benefit by having Chinese products to buy at better pricing. The American standard of living increases by having Chinese goods to choose and buy.
And rather than complaining about deficits, Trump should be bragging about what we have done for the Chinese standard of living. Additionally, he should be leading the way in clearing the economic path so Chinese consumers can have more American products to buy. That is the secret to narrowing trade deficits. Sell more to China.
As it stands today, for every dollar the United States sends to China, only ten cents comes back to the United States. In contrast, for every dollar the United States sends to Mexico (our third largest trading partner after Canada and China), Mexico sends .75 cents back to the United States. Imagine the numbers if the States could do the same with China.
The president must increase American exports into China, more trade is better. It increases direct Chinese-American interaction away from the diplomatic and technical stalemate.
It all comes back to the little Mexican boy playing with little Chinese boys; a Mexican boy eating Chinese food and Chinese boys eating Mexican food in the United States of America worked well in the 1940s. But what about today and tomorrow?
The documentary “Better Angels” shows me and us paths to follow for 1.6 billion Chinese and Americans in the 21st Century. In the words of the documentary’s producer, William Mundell:
The rise of China as an economic giant came about in the “first stage of economic globalization;” China is now entering “the second stage of globalization in which jobs are leaving it for better labor costs in Southeast Asia”…This is about changing the “world’s largest factory to world’s largest market,” for the United States, that is.
The United States and China, partners or enemies? The answer must be partners.
Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade;” he formerly wrote for the New America News Service of the New York Times and was a member of the International Seafarers Union in the 1960s
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.