OPINION> Patrick Whiteley
Americans and Chinese never been so alike
By Patrick Whiteley (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-02-19 07:46

Dear Hillary,

Beijing huanying ni (welcomes you).

What a thrill to see you on China's good earth so soon after your boss's historic victory. A black president, a new secretary of state and never-ending runs of Seinfeld everywhere - you Americans rock.

I'm somewhat of a cynic - 20 years working in newspapers can do that - but when Obama spoke I actually listened for more than 10 seconds to what a politician was actually saying.

He said America had become "a land of warring factions and tribal hatreds" and there was a solution. He urged Americans to remind themselves, despite all their differences, just how much they shared: "common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break."

He talked of prosperity and raising healthy and happy families. He spoke of living in harmony with neighbors and hoping for the best in life.

The Chinese share these values. In fact, they feel these values are more than just hopes and dreams. They believe they are human rights, which have inspired poems, songs and philosophies throughout the Middle Kingdom for centuries and even in recent times. The Beijing Olympics slogan was "One world, one dream."

Your buddy Barack called on Americans to "see their own self-interests inextricably linked to the interest of others". Premier Wen Jiabao agrees but has taken this sentiment to the international level.

He recently vowed not to devalue the yuan to protect exports and safeguard jobs. Considering more than tens of millions of jobs are already gone, it must have been tempting but China believes its shores must be opened to its trading partners. China knows everybody is suffering and that protectionism foolishly prolonged the last Great Depression. The Chinese know their own self interest is bound to others too.

You guys are on the same page, but Hillary, do yourself a favor and get yourself a Beijing foot massage. It costs $10 but it will be a couple of bucks dearer than it was three years ago. Since the yuan was depegged from the greenback, China's currency has risen more than 20 percent.

You must feel relaxed because your Group of Two discussions don't just benefit America and China, your relationship affects everybody. On behalf of the rest of the world (I'm an Aussie), we look forward to you sitting down, having a nice cup of green tea, and chilling out.

We don't like it when you big men on campus, as you Americans like to say, start flexing your muscles and squabbling about your differences. You both have massive armies and nuclear weapons and it makes all us little guys feel nervous when you quarrel.

You promised at your confirmation hearing to maintain your focus on the entire relationship with another nation and not allow single issues to set the tone and direction. Good on you because China wants to work with you more than ever before to make our global village a better place to be.

What an auspicious time to arrive in Beijing. Your Party has an overwhelming mandate to govern, there is no election around the corner and no China-bashing senators in marginal electorates to appease. There is nothing to fear here, except smelly tofu and getting stuck in Chang'an Avenue traffic during rush hour.

The Chinese are generally a peaceful tribe. In their recent history - the last century or so - they have undergone radical change and suffered enough heartbreak to better understand the value of harmony in their daily lives. As hundreds of millions move to the cities, they all want to give peace a chance.

They also want higher wages, bigger homes, better cars, bigger TV sets, nicer holidays and cell phones that connect to the Internet. They want their kids in college, be able to afford health care and want to grow old playing with their grandchildren.

In so many, many ways, the Chinese people in 2009, are just like Americans.

Good luck, and don't forget that foot massage.

E-mail: patwhiteley@yahoo.com

(China Daily 02/19/2009 page8)