on education 

on housing 

on foreign policy

The Role of Public
Diplomacy in the
Evolution of
United States–
China Relations,
1972 through 2002

I.  The Getting-to-
Know-You Years, 
1972 through 1979

II.  1980 through 2000:
The Years of Explosive
Growth in Travel, 
Investment, Commerce, 
and Cross-Cultural
Study and
Language Training

III.  Todays United States
China Interdependence:
Lessons Learned and
Their Application to the
Current United States

Islam Divide


One China or Two?






U.S. State Department

U.S. State Department Background Note:  China


Maps of China

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, 2002, China notes including map

Perspectives on Foreign Policy


 II.  The years of explosive growth,  page 2 of 3



Use of the Internet is booming in China. With 45.8 million Internet users as of 2002, China is in third place after Japan (56 million as of 2002), in second place, and the United States (165.75 million as of 2002), in first place as having the world’s largest number of Internet users. Because the Internet is a powerful communication medium and China’s government maintains strong control on the spread of information, the government sees clearly both how the Internet can help China develop into a modern state and also how it can be disruptive to its current political system.



In 1975 there was virtually no tourism either out of or into China;  today China has leapt to fifth place in world tourism profits in 2001 (income $17.8 billion and profits of $33.2 million, surpassing both Britain and Germany) with 784 million domestic tourists in 2001 ($42 billion income) (2) .  Chinese traveling abroad totaled 12,130,000 (in 1975, there were almost none) (3) . The World Tourism Organization (WTO) predicts that by 2020, China will be the number 1 world tourist destination and the fourth-largest source of tourists.


*        *        *

Notwithstanding all of the modernization and the travel between America and China, there remains a need for continued diplomatic efforts.   

In a recent survey of Chinese attitudes toward Americans, individuals representing a cross-section of Chinese society were asked to give the first words that came to mind at the mention of the United States.  Of those who responded, 34.0 percent answered “modernization,” “affluence,” or “high tech”; 11.6 percent said “democracy” or “freedom”; and 29.0 percent responded “overbearing,” “hegemonic,” “arrogant,” or “the world’s policeman.”

The sum of these responses is a fair representation of China’s mixed and ambivalent sentiments about America, a nation whose name translates literally into Chinese as MeiGuo or “beautiful country.” In the same survey 85 percent of the respondents said they were convinced that the United States--NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999 was intentional.  Many Chinese are also disturbed by the condescending and overbearing tone of American criticism of China’s human rights record.  They are ready to concede, at least privately, that the human rights situation in China is far from satisfactory. But they suspect the criticisms are politically motivated. Some Chinese point out that Americans were virtually silent when the human rights situation in China was at its worst—during the Cultural Revolution (1966 through 1976)—whereas they vigorously reproach China today, when the situation has improved remarkably.

In any case China’s ambivalence about the “beautiful country” will continue. Deep in the Chinese mind lurks a strange combination of images of America:  “a repressive hegemonic country—a sentimental imperialist—a grave threat—a hypocritical crusader—a gorgeous land—a ravishing culture—an indispensable partner—a fond dream—and a patronizing teacher.” 

The process of reform and opening that is now occurring in China can be seen as the renewal of an earlier painful process of learning from the West.  Many Chinese wonder whether the teachers will once again bully the pupil.  And yet, how much better it will be—for the United States and the rest of the world—if the Chinese ideals are fulfilled in this century. In the process, we, as Americans, must learn to listen, not just to preach. As someone said: “We can do more for our country with our ears than with our trigger fingers."


*        *        *

There are many other facets of change that have become pressing issues with international dimensions including the “one-child policy” (4); the upcoming leadership change (fourth-generation Wen Jiabao and fifth-generation Hu Jintao); the floating population problem;  the Three Gorges Dam (5); the problem of water and desertification; and, of course, Taiwan and the “one China” question.  


 (Endnotes on following page.)


introduction        page 1          page 2 

     endnotes           biographical notes          bibliography