Tavenner portraitBy: Carson Tavenner

From 27 years of military service, teaching, and work in the non-profit sector, I’ve come to realize to move forward, Americans need to enlarge their thinking about China. Here are some key points:

  • A successful China does not need to be a China that has overcome American strength nor is a successful America one that must work to contain Chinese growth.
  • China is portrayed as a invincible superpower on the rise, but it faces enormous domestic problems which are truly crises in the making. Grim pollution, disputes over water sharing, discontent with power and corruption, and too few young people to provide for the elderly are just a few.
  • National leaders and their staffs in both the USA and the PRC are (and have been) working hard to avoid a cataclysmic war between us. We see the means differently, but we share the same goal. So far we’ve managed to do a pretty decent job but by no means are we perfect at it.
  • Our current writers and commentators mostly think in a “national” frame. This frame shapes nearly all the arguments and positions, but leaves out the true picture of the day-to-day diplomacy which shapes the business and cultural futures of both countries. A more nuanced look reveals at least four levels in the relationship between Americans and Chinese: national, civilizational, subnational, and individual. Great work has been achieved at all these levels over the last three decades, with surprising and substantial success in the subnational level.
  • There are local opportunities for almost every American to become part of the U.S.-China subnational relationship — in their communities. While everyday Chinese many not have the same opportunities as Americans to get involved in their communities, civil society in the PRC is learning and growing every year.

Integrating these other insights into our thinking can help advance a constructive relationship between the United States and China, with good effects felt around the world.

If more Chinese and more Americans come to a better understanding of the great hope and the wide potential of our relationship, the risks of conflict will diminish. Local voices, community relationships, and subnational partnerships provide a way for everyone to shape a better future.  Will you join us?


Note: This is excerpt of a longer reflection written by Carson about his years of work in U.S.-China Relations which was  originally published on ContextChina. Read the full piece here.