Maps of China
The David G. Scanlon Lecture Series: The Role of Public Diplomacy in the Evolution of United States–China Relations, 1972 through 2002. The third of three lectures.
United States–China Interdependence:
New Leadership in China
Before getting started with the subject of today’s discussion as indicated in the program, I want to update you on the recent leadership changes in China and explain their overall significance both to China itself and to its relationship with the United States. President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji have been replaced by fourth-generation leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.
What does "fourth-generation leader" mean? It means the fourth generation after Mao Zedong (first generation), followed by Deng Xiaoping (second generation), and Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji (both third generation). It means that both men were in their early twenties during the Cultural Revolution. They are both university graduates and engineers, and they both entered the Communist Party in 1965.
Wen Jiabao has replaced Zhu Rongji as China’s premier, and Hu Jintao has replaced Jiang Zemin as China’s president. President Hu has been the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party since 1992, and he will remain in that position in addition to serving as the president.
The outgoing president Jiang Zemin will remain as the chairman of the Central Military Commission (like the U.S. secretary of defense), although in six months or so, he may step down from that position and be replaced by President Hu. (Sounds like a take-off on the famous Abbott & Costello routine called "Hu’s on First.")
It is expected that this new generation of leadership will bring more progress and reform to China’s overall system of governing. Both men, but particularly Wen Jiabao, have indicated that they will concentrate attention on rural China, which is the area suffering the greatest poverty, which has resulted in a huge so-called floating population.
China’s urban centers like Shanghai and Beijing, with their skyscrapers and five-star hotels, are a far different world from that inhabited by large numbers of China’s 900 million rural population. In the rural areas the annual per-capita income is only 625 yuan (U.S. $78), and more than 30 million farmers live below that poverty line.
It is a crucial task for the new Chinese leadership to try and narrow this gap as they push for rural reforms. Wen Jiabo has made clear that he regards this problem as a key priority. He told a news conference after he was appointed that “if we set a benchmark of the poverty line with an increase of 200 yuan (about U.S. $25), then the poor population would be 90 million” (instead of 900 million).
It is true that living standards have risen in absolute terms in the Chinese overcrowded countryside. In the last seven years many villages previously without electricity have been connected. The availability of electricity has given rural dwellers a window via television through which to see what is happening in other areas of China. They see that a lot of people are doing better than they are. They want to improve their lot, but they don’t have the opportunities.
As I have noted before, you cannot discuss any China issue without keeping in mind the size of its population because it affects almost all issues either directly or indirectly. One important area of progress in United States–China cross-cultural understanding over the past two decades centers on this one fact. Americans can now understand why there is no word for “privacy” in the Chinese language.
Steady Growth of Friendship
In 2002 there were 6,211 Chinese students in U.S. degree programs, which was 11 percent of all foreign students. For China, this number of students represents explosive growth in educational exchange, and there has been similar growth in tourism. This extensive travel between the two countries and the simultaneous development of bilateral commercial activities have solidified the United States–China relationship into a strong bond.
The bond between the two countries will continue to strengthen as long as the public diplomacy efforts practiced by the National Committee on United States–China Relations (NCUSCR) continue to lead the way—and the government follows that lead with its own similar programs and initiatives. For example, last year the NCUSCR provided a public speaking platform for President Hu Jintao when he made his first visit to the United States.
In 2003 it is more than just a question of “getting to know you.” Rather, it is the question of "getting to know you better" as the two countries become more and more interdependent. Furthermore, not only must government officials become better acquainted but the general public in both countries must also become more knowledgeable about each other. As the relationship improves, fear and suspicion of each other will subside. (Continue to page 2.)