From Black & White to Technicolor

Nov 2, 2017 by

Tom Watkins –

China may have been the North Korea of the last century. The U.S. had no diplomatic relationship with China and virtually no contact with that nation since Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

China, a nuclear power, is home to one-fifth of all humanity but back then was cut off from much of the world until the so-called ‘ping-pong’ diplomacy in the early 1970s began the process that opened it up.

During the mid-20th century, China struggled to regain its equilibrium after vanquishing Japanese invaders (with the assistance of the Flying Tigers and the Hump missions from Burma) and suffering the indignities of Maoist-era 60s atrocities like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

White Cat/Black Cat

Deng Xiaoping, the bold pragmatic leader who followed Mao, proceeded to kick down the doors of isolation, thereby throwing open China to the world.

China has since taken off like a rocket following a series of political and economic ideological shifts, deftly navigating Chinese politics. While not rejecting “Maoist thought” outright (millions of Chinese referred to Mao’s Little Red Book for right living) or demonizing Marxist-Leninist thought, Deng adapted their philosophies to help begin modernizing China.

As Deng opened China to the world, he focused on political and economic pragmatism. When asked to explain the embrace of socialism and communism alongside capitalism, Deng pragmatically explained, “I don’t care if it is a white cat or a black cat, as long as the cat can catch the mice.”

See-Saw Diplomacy

Today, China’s President Xi Jinping is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. Xi further consolidated his power during the Communist Party Congress this past week in Beijing.

Some argue President Xi is consolidating power and global nation-building, earning a global following, even as President Trump leads in the opposite direction. President Trump with his political troubles and isolationist thinking will make his first visit to China this month. North Korea and fair trade will clearly top the agenda.

The Washington Post points out “Trump’s America poses a tricky problem. For now, Xi chooses to reciprocate Trump’s embrace. China is planning for Trump’s arrival next month as if it were a royal visit, much as the Saudis received him in May. An elaborate welcoming ceremony is planned, perhaps followed by a photogenic meeting of Xi’s grandchildren and Trump’s. (Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are said to be considering coming with their family.)

Will substance follow the pomp and circumstance? Or will the Chinese leaders fool with Trump’s ego and toss him a few bones?

Time will tell who is fooling with who. Yet clearly what is at stake dwarfs the egos of these two leaders.

The dynamics of the meeting between the two world leaders are sure to be carefully dissected, each move read like tea leaves as analysts attempt to understand the future relationship between the U.S. and China -a relationship sure to affect all of humanity.

Early Exposure

I first traveled to China in 1989 and spent three nights with students there during the Tiananmen stand-off, as they called for greater freedom, an end to corruption, and a call for “democracy”. Those calls ended with the People’s Liberation Army turning on its people on June 4, 1989.

While democracy is not a China reality and remains unlikely to emerge, the changes for the betterment of Chinese citizens is palpable and enviable.

What has transpired in China since these early days is nothing short of phenomenal. I recall my mom imploring me to eat my peas, that “children are starving in China” (and they were back then). But today, China is eating our lunch.

From no private ownership of cars before the 90’s, today’s China is the envy of the world with the largest auto market, speed-driven bullet trains, modern airports and a ubiquitous e-commerce and technology infrastructure that sometimes makes the U.S. seem stuck in the technological Middle Ages.

In the nearly 30 years I have been traveling to China, there is no question that the lives of average Chinese citizens have improved remarkably.

I just returned from a three week trip to China resulting in my need for a clarion call for the U.S. to awaken to a nation on the move. There is an urgent need for more and more of our citizens to grasp the enormity of China’s rise.

Napoleon is quoted as saying, “Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Today China is wide awake. What can we do to open the eyes of adults and children to the threats and opportunities that China presents? I believe we must continue to build cultural, educational, and economic bridges with China.

Clearly, there are issues our national leaders need to be alert to and working with our Chinese counterparts: Free and fair trade, currency manipulation, cyber-spying, theft of intellectual property, climate change, maintaining free navigation in the vital sea lanes, human rights, North Korea and Iran, to name a few.

Yet, on the subnational level, our energy should be on connections that add mutual benefit to parties on both sides of the ocean in order to produce win-win results.

The relationship between our two countries is the most important bilateral relationship in the world today. Going forward, all major issues will intersect at the corner of Washington, DC, and Beijing. How this relationship is managed will impact not only the people of our respective nations but all of humanity.

We need to continue to find ways to build on the existing people-to-people exchanges between our two countries.

Jerry Xu, President of Michigan US/China Exchange Center ( is continually finding ways to connect Michigan with China around business, education, and culture. He says, “We have two choices: we can find ways to build bridges or dig moats— building two-way bridges that are mutually beneficial is clearly the way to go”.

Governor Snyder and Jerry Xu

The Detroit China Business Association is hosting the U.S. China Auto Expo Forum 2017 in Dearborn, November 7-10.


Milan Stevanovich, Vice President Global Strategy at Detroit Chinese Business Association encourages, “Doing business with China is what the DCBA facilitates … we have demonstrated that economic ties with China have reaped jobs and investment by building bridges with China, keeping Michigan the global epicenter of Mobility”. Attendance for Expo Forum on November 8 is free with advance registration, and complimentary luncheon for the first 200 registrants.

People looking to do business with China should consider attending this event and engage with the DCBA, which has been building economic bridges with China for over two decades.

Lisa Grey, a longtime bridge builder between Michigan and China, and chairwoman of both the North American Chinese Coalition (NACC), and the Chinese Association of Greater Detroit (CAGD) has organized the inaugural US-China Cultural Art Festival “Magnificent China. That extravaganza will be held on November 5 at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn between 1-5pm.

Lisa said, “We are extremely proud to partner with Chinese Consul General Hong Lei, along with local and state leaders to expose Michigan citizens to the splendor of Chinese culture.

Counsel General Hong Lei from Chicago and a friend to Michigan will be attending the performance.

Chinese Consul General, Hong Lei


Governor Snyder deserves credit for forging a thoughtful China policy that is important for his replacement to build upon. Between January 2010 and July 2017, Michigan received $1.1 billion in new business investment from China that created 5,475 jobs for Michigan residents – an ROI (return on investment) that has created numerous benefits for the people of the Great Lakes State.

Ribbon Cutting opening the WSU/ Schoolcraft College Confusius Institute

The China wave will continue to pound our shores. Smart leaders and individuals will find ways to assure that China’s rise does not come at our demise.

What is your China plan?

Read more on the importance of building bridge with China here:

•Tom Watkins – CHINA US Focus

•China’s influence will continue to pound Michigan’s shores

Bridge to China

Tom Watkins is a business and educational consultant in the US and China. He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

Source: From Black & White to Technicolor

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