Locke kicks off Project Pengyou
Updated: 2011-12-13 11:16
By Mike Peters (chinadaily.com.cn)
While Locke and other speakers started the program with the enthusiasm of a pep rally, online media expert Kaiser Kuo ended the event with a sense of urgency and concern.
"It wasn't long ago that encounters between the two countries were pretty much stage-managed," said Kuo, a New York-born rock musician and director of Baidu International Communications. "Sister cities were established, and trade delegations traveled back and forth."
Today, he says, the need for real people-to-people relations has become critical as China's rising power has become a topic of debate in US elections. While the US is experiencing a crisis of confidence, China is riding a surge of nationalism.
"Both nations have a great sense of destiny and a sense of exceptionalism," he said, and public opinion in both countries is more important that ever.
The Internet, he added, is not always an asset in the relationship.
"The Internet was supposed to make us all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya," he said, "but in reality the average citizen in each country knows just enough about the other to be dangerous." Noting that bloggers and comments on Web postings are becoming increasingly shrill, he said the problem isn't just "the usual trolls and haters you always find online. The mainstream is also growing more disparate."
Kuo recalled the events of May 1999 when US planes bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, an attack the White House said was a tragic mistake.
"At that time, there were 8 million people online in China," Kuo said, "and the outrage was immense.
"Imagine if that happened today, with 500 million Chinese online," he said. "The river of fire could overflow almost instantaneously, with people on both sides of the Pacific eager to think the worst of each other."
Such a climate of fear, other speakers said, was less likely if more people on both sides knew each other.
"Expat life is life-changing," said Chris Cooper, principal of China strategy in the US for Deloitte & Touche. "Ninety percent of the rush we all look for in daily life is just being here."
Allan Wu, host of TV's Amazing Race, told the crowd that the stereotypes that most Asians have about Americans, and Americans have about Asians, are not rooted in hostility but in a lack of interaction.
Wu, whose parents emigrated from China to the US, was raised in California and always saw himself as an American growing up. His parents urged him to appreciate his cultural roots, he said, but that didn't really click for him until he had the opportunity to come to Hong Kong as an adult.
He urged US expats in China to help American students "connect with the fastest-growing economy in the world", saying that educational exchanges were the best way not only to see differences between people but "to see how we're the same, how we can be collaborative and solve common problems".
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