Over the past three decades, China has looked to the West, mainly for investment, new technology and management practices that helped to transform its economy.
China's economic reform, liberalization and opening up to the outside world, especially after joining the World Trade Organization, have injected great vitality to the nation's economy.
Today, the West is also finding something to learn from the Chinese economy, which will surpass Japan to become the second largest in the world, trailing only the United States.
China, meanwhile, has also benefited from studying the West to build institutions and establish a legal system, albeit in a less aggressive way.
However, great social and economic progress has caused great problems, ranging from the widening income gap, serious corruption to lax implementation of the law.
While major developed countries also suffer from various headaches, it is no big surprise for a country in transition, and one which is as big, poor and diverse as China to have myriad problems, including quite a few in the area of human rights.
The China-US human rights dialogue to be held in Washington DC on May 13-14 is a good platform for the two countries to interact with and learn from each other on the issue.
For years, the two governments have bickered by publishing annual reports charging each other of human rights violations. Both reports have contained some truth.
But public accusation has turned out to be ineffective in solving problems. Dialogue is apparently a better option, as demonstrated by the mechanisms for talks set up on a wide range of issues.
In fact, the high-level China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue to be held in Beijing later this month will address some major problems facing the two countries.
Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor who has dedicated the past 50 years to studying China's legal system, has been an advocate of the bilateral human rights dialogue.
He wants to see the establishment of a joint committee to discuss the issue more frequently. That committee should include both officials and experts who understand the real issues, he says.
While political rights seem to be the focus of the Western news media's reports on China, labor rights and the rule of law are no smaller challenges these days amid rapid social transformation. Labor dispute is also a major issue in the US, so is the invasion of privacy since September 11, 2001.
As one who has trained many Chinese legal professionals, the 80-year-old Cohen appreciates China's progress in almost every field in the past decades, including in human rights. Yet, he is not shy in offering critiques.
As the Chinese saying goes, "Good medicine tastes bitter in the mouth", Cohen says he loves China and his often-sharp criticism is intended to make China even better.
Criticism is needed now as some people have become complacent talking about the so-called "China model", featuring rapid economic growth and strong government role in the economic, social and political arenas.
That model was formed during a time when the country's legal system and rule of law were far from adequate. Hence it is far from being a perfect model that we should recommend in haste to other countries.
To build a "China model" that truly makes us proud, we need to show the same zest in learning to further improve institutions, rule of law as well as human rights practices, just like the thirst we have displayed in learning Western technology and management in the past three decades.
(China Daily 05/11/2010 page8)