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Foreigners can see for themselves the wonders of China

By Andrew K P Leung | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-09 09:07
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On April 2, President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with US President Joe Biden, and the two heads of state had a candid, in-depth exchange of views on China-US relations and issues of mutual interest.

According to the website of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the China-US relationship is beginning to stabilize. This is welcomed by both societies as well as the international community.

On the other hand, negative factors of the relationship have also been growing, and this requires attention from both sides. In particular, this refers to the continuing stream of US measures to suppress China's trade and technology development, and the adding of more and more Chinese entities to sanctions lists under the mantra of "de-risking". This is hardly conducive to US credibility on wanting a healthy US-China relationship.

Nevertheless, the two presidents found the phone call to be candid and constructive. The two sides agreed to maintain communication, and their teams were tasked with delivering on the San Francisco vision that resulted from Xi and Biden meeting in the US in November. This will include consultation mechanisms on diplomatic, economic, financial, commercial and other issues as well as military-to-military communication, dialogue and cooperation in such areas as counter-narcotics, artificial intelligence and climate response, taking further steps to expand people-to-people exchanges, and enhancing communication on international and regional issues.

Apart from this being a US presidential election year, there are two other dynamics at play in the relentless US pushback against China on nearly all fronts.

The first is paranoia about a rapidly rising China, oblivious of the hard-won rise of the Chinese people, which has taken them from nearly two centuries of abject poverty and foreign invasion to finding their place in the sun once again.

The second factor is the theory expounded on by US scholar John Mearsheimer in his 2001 book "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics", or what Harvard scholar Graham Allison has termed the Thucydides Trap, which refers to the conflict that can arise when a rising power causes fear in an established power.

To counter misconceptions about China and to build bridges across the globe, nothing compares with overseas visits by the nation's top leaders. More such visits to Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America have already been taking place in recent years. This trend is likely to accelerate.

If more Westerners come to visit China, they will see for themselves how the nation managed to get to where it is today without becoming militarily expansionist.

By meeting ordinary Chinese people in different provinces, foreign visitors will not cease to be amazed by how friendly they are, and how their lives have been dramatically transformed and modernized.

They will be able to enjoy China's superfast and seamlessly efficient high-speed rail network, whose total length was some 45,000 kilometers by the end of 2023, and whose trains have a design speed of up to 350 km/h. The network is expected to expand to around 70,000 km by 2035.

Foreign visitors can witness such eye-catching engineering wonders as the 55-km-long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which is the world's longest sea-crossing bridge and tunnel system. They can also marvel at the award-winning Beipanjiang Bridge, which connects Guizhou and Yunnan provinces and has a total length of 1,341 meters.

These and many more state-of-the-art structures represent the ingenuity of China's engineers and other workers in addressing challenges that first seemed to pose impossible odds.

Foreign visitors will also admire China's millennia-long and multifaceted cultural heritage, embracing the diversity of 56 ethnic groups.

It's no wonder that China has recently started to provide visa-free treatment to a host of European and Southeast Asian nations and to make mobile payments by foreigners much easier.

However, people-to-people exchanges, a potential reservoir of goodwill and mutual trust, are by no means limited to traveling.

For example, by way of "track two diplomacy", more opportunities should be created across the nation for international business, professional and academic exchanges, including seminars, exhibitions, promotions and other events. Foreign visitors interacting with their Chinese counterparts would be able to experience "lightbulb" moments of understanding, insight and inspiration, or opportunities for fruitful cooperation.

Specifically, professional organizations including those for lawyers, accountants, surgeons, public health operatives, engineers, surveyors, scientists, archaeologists, artists and writers, among others, should be encouraged and supported.

Furthermore, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative offers numerous opportunities for closer cooperation with local and international stakeholders, including the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, on a project-specific basis.

The list can go on, limited only by the imagination.

Along with national efforts to build a more open, dynamic, innovative, inclusive and ecologically more beautiful China, people-to-people exchanges in myriad forms can work wonders in building global bridges and breaking down cultural and geopolitical barriers, including those hampering US-China relations.

The author is a former director-general of social welfare for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and former chief representative of the SAR for the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, Russia, Norway and Switzerland.

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