Pete’s approach is derived from his extensive experience working in, traveling through, and studying China

His opinion is that the two countries are both powerful and equal but rooted in vastly different histories and cultures. This is explained in more detail here in Pete’s inaugural blog. Of utmost importance is understanding that neither country will change how they govern themselves or interact with the world but understanding the differing characteristics can go a long way to bridging the gap that too often leads to misunderstanding, tension, or counter-productive strategies and tactics.

There are a number of important characteristics that unite the Chinese and American people: a strong work ethic, ambition, optimism, helpfulness, and a sense of humor. And although nothing is simple, fundamental misunderstandings can be linked to the five core characteristics described below. Pete applies this set of characteristics to situation after situation across all of today’s key issues to explain why our approach to working with China too often does not produce the desired outcomes.

Dualistic vs Balanced
The US is:

A Dualistic culture, where one is right or wrong, or there are winners and losers.

China is:

A culture focused on Balance, in which people seek to avoid conflict and find a win-win.

How differences can cause misunderstanding or tension:

Although from a US perspective it seems that China is focused on its own best interest, the reconciling fact is China expects the US or anyone to do the same. From the Chinese perspective, when both countries pursue a gain for themselves, the end result will be more balanced and therefore a win-win. As an example, China has agreed to a tactical Phase I trade deal that focuses largely on tariffs and the amount of goods each side will purchase from the other. This deal is in the interest of both countries. China has not, and likely will not, agreed to stop subsidizing selected industries and companies because doing so is not in its long-term economic interest.

Individualistic vs Collectivist
The US is:

An Individualistic society focused on the well-being and rights of each individual.

China is

A Collectivist society, where the well-being of society as a whole far outweighs the well-being or concern of the individual.

How differences can cause misunderstanding or tension:

This most glaringly comes into play in the area of human rights. In the US, human rights are inalienable and absolute; human rights in China are relativist to be weighed against other societal needs including food, shelter, borders, stability, and safety. As an example, on the treatment of Uighurs, China would point to dramatic improvements in the Uighurs’ quality of life over the last 50+ years in terms of literacy, prosperity and longevity as well as a sharp reduction in Islamic terrorist incidents to the benefit of all Chinese. Both are collective gains. The US focuses entirely on the one million Uighurs who have been interred without due process in violation of their individual rights. Obviously, the two countries’ priorities are very different.

Interventionist vs Non-interventionist
The US is:

Interventionist, with unwavering commitment to spread the ideals of democracy, freedom, and human rights across the globe.

China is:

Non-interventionist, and focused on economic opportunities and tangible outcomes in the best interest of China, its people, their prosperity and their safety.

How differences can cause misunderstanding or tension:

This explains much of how the US and China make decisions regarding trade and national spending. In recent history, the US has taken a leading role and spent dramatically more on wars intended to control the spread of communism and the threat of terrorism. In the Middle East, for example, US spending on the War on Terror has exceeded $10 trillion. Meanwhile, China has focused mostly on itself and spent significantly more on infrastructure and domestic needs. China’s global activities—largely trade and its Belt and Road Initiative—have made positive contributions to the economy, enabling investments in industry, infrastructure and raising people out of poverty.

Free-enterprise vs Government‑controlled Economy
The US is:

A free-enterprise economy driven from the bottom-up—largely free of government intervention where survival of the fittest is expected to drive the best economic outcomes.

China is:

A government-controlled economy shaped and driven by a strong, all-powerful central government with unlimited scope and with overall Chinese interests taking precedence over unmanaged market forces.

How differences can cause misunderstanding or tension:

This is often a root of tension as there is no arena in which the Chinese central government will not involve itself to protect Chinese interests. This type of Chinese intervention, be it subsidies or trade policies, is considered “unfair trade practices” by the US because it interferes with free-market forces.

Democracy vs Meritocracy
The US has:

Government leaders chosen by popular elections.

China has:

Government leaders chosen meritocratically by the Chinese Communist Party.

How differences can cause misunderstanding or tension:

The short-term nature of elections in the US often translates to a short-term perspective on priorities and policies. China, free of the pressures of elections, is focused on long-term outcomes and investing heavily in its future economy. The other difference is in the profile of its leaders. Elected officials in the US must be skilled in the use of media but have, on average, relatively little practical experience in managing at scale. Senior Chinese officials have broad and deep experience in government and, on average, are better educated.

Pete’s POV

When these two countries better understand each other, they can work together as constructive partners to reduce misunderstanding and conflict and produce better outcomes on a range of key issues where their interests are aligned.

PRAISE FOR

POWERFUL DIFFERENT EQUAL

“An important book for it is the only one I know that systematically disaggregates the values and world views of China and the West (primarily the US) and identifies how these differing perspectives are so instrumental to thinking and politics.”

RON O’HANLEY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, STATE STREET CORPORATION