History can repeat itself in a constructive way in trade dispute
I expected a leadership training session in Yan'an, Shaanxi province, to be a welcome break from Sino-US trade friction stories. However, I ended up delving deeper into the issue, albeit from a historical point of view.
Yan'an, 300 kilometers from Xi'an, the provincial capital of Shaanxi, is a sacred place for Chinese for two reasons-it is home to the mausoleum of the Huangdi emperor, regarded as the common ancestor of all Chinese, and it served as the headquarters of the Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong for 13 years before the CPC military forces defeated the Kuomintang regime and founded New China in 1949.
With 160 historical sites, this small, legendary town is like an extended museum offering thousands of visitors food for thought. Yan'an is a must-go destination for leadership training. Its unique advantages are the open classrooms, very often under the big tree in front of the humble cave houses where Chairman Mao and other top CPC leaders worked.
The class that impressed me most, as it linked the past to the present, was a review of Mao Zedong's essay "On Protracted War", written in a mud house in 1938.
Facing the Japanese army which had launched an all-out invasion of China and conquered the eastern part of the country within a year, Mao outlined a three-stage defensive and offensive strategy to subdue the Japanese even though the invaders far outweighed the Communist military forces in logistics and strength. He wrote: "The question now is: Will China be subjugated? The answer is, no, she will not be subjugated, but will win final victory. Can China win quickly? The answer is, no, she cannot win quickly, and the War of Resistance will be a protracted war."
Mao proposed that an anti-Japanese united front be established in China, in Japanese colonies and the rest of world, even in Japan, with the highest importance accorded to the unity of the Chinese people.
Mao's article immediately resonated with the Chinese people, including the rival Kuomintang leaders, because it offered a vision and instilled a new sense of optimism among the people. His strategy bore fruits over the following seven years, with Japan ultimately losing the war in 1945.
The lessons of the past serve as a guide for the future. I am still reluctant to use the word "war" to describe the Sino-US trade dispute. But the fact is, Sino-US trade ties have reached their lowest point in 40 years.
History is repeating itself in some ways, as the Chinese people are more united today than perhaps any time in history, thanks mainly to the external challenges China faces, and determined to work even harder to enable the country to cope with external pressures. Western media tend to label such overwhelming social consciousness as "nationalism". But US leaders' arrogance and sense of superiority cannot be countered with anything less.
A single country can hardly buck the trend of globalization and free trade. And since China is seeking more partnerships in Asia, Africa and Europe, the resulting rise in the flow of goods across the world is expected to fill the vacuum created by the trade war.
Tariffs, trade deficits and intellectual property rights are just excuses the US is using to curb China's rise. China is only halfway toward realizing the goal of modernization. Its per capita GDP is only one-sixth of the US. And if Washington continues to regard China's rise as a hurdle to making America great again, the trade war may not end anytime soon.
Yan'an is where the foundation of New China was laid. It is also where Mao Zedong Thought has its roots. And it is from there that the DNA of diligence and persistence, as well as traditional wisdom, have been passed down from generation to generation, which in turn have helped transform the world's most-populous country into the second-largest economy.
What lesson does Yan'an offer on the trade war?
China will not be subjugated in the trade war. Which means the trade war will be a protracted one. And since there is no winner in a trade war, one hopes reason would prevail, and the world's two heavyweights write a new chapter on dispute resolution, so that history repeats itself but in a constructive way.