Of what value is leadership? How do we judge the worth of character in those on whom public trust is laid? These difficult questions are currently at the heart of many concerns of citizens in the United States and China, and one of the reasons I’ve recently been reflecting on humility in leadership. In August 2011, a photo of former Washington State Governor and current [pullquote_r]Two great nations. Two very different situations. Yet, one future.[/pullquote_r]U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke showed him humbly purchasing his own cup of coffee at SeaTac International Airport before departing for duty in Beijing. An inspiration to many for a variety of reasons, the photo sparked chatter in China about unethical behavior often displayed by their leaders. Lest we condemn the ethics of Chinese leaders too quickly, let us reflect on the fact that America, too, has leadership challenges. In one pertinent example, the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating was based on a lack of confidence in…
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[show-to accesslevel=”observer”] …our representatives specifically and government leaders in general. Two great nations. Two very different situations. Yet, one future. In the 21st century, the US/China relationship will be the most influential relationship in the world. We have to generate confidence that Chinese and American leaders can, and will, generate the political will necessary to ensure our bilateral relationship will be a force for good in the world. Despite the current lack of confidence, I nevertheless see the potential for an inspiring relationship to grow; one that solves problems and provides hope.
I recommend our first step be to see ourselves not as two nations, but as two civilizations. China is the oldest remaining civilization on the surface of Earth; America is the newest. China is greater than its national government, just as America is greater than its national government. When we first started, we were thirteen states in a common union. We split up and fought bitterly years later. We are still unified, still strong. China, in its more than two thousand years of history, has had dozens of governments and fought itself several times over. It has been a world leader, and will be again someday. We should encourage China to be a great leader, giving the world the best its civilization has to offer, and mentoring us along the way to also be a great civilization. Seeing ourselves as civilizations, we can envision the greatness we could achieve together for the good of humanity.
Secondly, the communication problems we face at the national level can be aided – even solved – at the state/provincial level. Using state-to-province level communication to help the nation-to-nation level is at the heart of Ambassador Huntsman’s U.S-China Sub-National Initiative, a program he launched in the sunset of his time in Beijing, now passed to the National Governor’s Association (NGA). Unfortunately, a “perfect storm” of 1) Huntsman’s departure from his Beijing office, 2) a change in strategic priorities in the NGA and 3) the U.S. government’s current budget woes has made the visionary Sub-National Initiative appear “dead on arrival.” Nevertheless, the initiative is worth pursuing. Americans and Chinese have hundreds, even thousands, of positive developments in our relationships across dozens of fields. The strength of the University of Washington’s and Arizona State University’s mutual connection to Sichuan University is a good example. Such strength, used wisely, could help save the future of the overall relationship from the twin specters of miscommunication and nationalism.
Finally, for both America and China to address the future, we need leaders. Leaders with vision, the ability to listen and speak clearly, and a tendency to value others more than they value themselves. Our community leaders, be they in commerce, education, finance, industry, services or the state, should proactively engage in shaping, not observing, the future of our two nations. Many feel they can’t do very much but, as Edmund Burke put it, “nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” Let’s not make another huge mistake by letting the US/China relationship fall into ruin by thinking its DC’s job to save it. Let’s encourage Ambassador Locke to pick up the vision Huntsman set forth in the Sub-National Initiative. Locke’s humble personal example is a great leadership image for many – including ourselves – to follow, and I’m certain that following his and other such examples will help both nations develop the ethical leadership they desperately need.
Two great civilizations. Two very different sets of advantages and characteristics. And one great future. Let’s build this vision together![/show-to]