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Touchstone for trust


There are multiple perspectives from which to view the US-China relationship: national security, trade and economic affairs, political analysis and national pride. Each provides a single view of what is very much a multidimensional relationship. Some people in the United States and China choose to view the two countries' respective actions and presumed intentions through just one lens. Observing US-China relations over the past few years, I worry that, like a person viewing the world with one eye shut, both sides miss so much of what we could be seeing about this most important bilateral relationship.

I look at US-China affairs through the lens of people-to-people relationships, which I have had the honor to participate in and promote over the years.

As the grand-nephew of Helen Foster Snow, a US journalist who reported from China in the 1930s, I have been inspired by her life and work to follow her example and, through my role as chairman of the Utah-based Helen Foster Snow Foundation, act as a bridge between the US and China.

I'm touched by the respect the Chinese people have for Helen Foster Snow, and I'd like to honor her by doing my part to carry on her legacy of building people-to-people ties between the two nations.

As a journalist in war-torn China in the 1930s, Helen Foster Snow was one of the first Western reporters to report the on-the-ground situation in China during a time of turmoil. After arriving in Shanghai in 1931, where she met and married Edgar Snow, she lived in China for 10 years, and developed a deep love and respect for the Chinese people.

She braved war zones to interview the leaders of China as well as other political and cultural leaders, regardless of their political ideology. She interviewed leaders of the Communist Party of China at Yan'an, and shared what they told her, along with her own insights, with the wider world. Together with her husband, she shared her perspective on China's situation with US president Franklin Roosevelt and others in the West to increase their understanding of China and its people.

Her work in helping to establish the Gung Ho Movement, which provided industrial support to the Chinese United Front in the Chinese people's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), saved lives in China and other countries. For her great contributions to the US' understanding of foreign countries and cultures, she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1972, the leaders of China and the US took incredible steps to broaden the perspective of how Chinese and US people view each other. The steady progress enabled by the people-to-people ties, trade and cultural exchanges that were subsequently established, helped both countries get a more accurate assessment of each other.

The Shanghai Communique was the agreement that made it possible.

When I read the text of the communique for the first time, I was struck by how much of the language within it is so relevant to the current state of US-China relations. In 1972, the differences between the two countries were even greater than they are today, yet the two countries were able to come to an agreement.

That landmark diplomatic achievement offers lessons for the people of China and the US today.

In the US section it states: "The effort to reduce tensions is served by improving communication between countries that have different ideologies so as to lessen the risks of confrontation through accident, miscalculation or misunderstanding. Countries should treat each other with mutual respect and be willing to compete peacefully, letting performance be the ultimate judge. No country should claim infallibility and each country should be prepared to reexamine its own attitudes for the common good."

This advice is as good today as it was 50 years ago. Despite the current relationship challenges, in order to accomplish our respective national goals, address common global issues, and contribute to a stable international system, China and the US require each other's assistance.

Retired senior colonel Zhou Bo, a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, said recently, "Whatever one might think about the future of the China-US relationship, Nixon's visit half a century ago offers a useful reminder: if enemies could become friends, then competitors are not bound to become enemies today."

The communique advises us on how to maintain the mutually beneficial ties between China and the US: "The two sides agreed that it is desirable to broaden the understanding between the two peoples. To this end, they discussed specific areas in such fields as science, technology, culture, sports and journalism, in which people-to-people contacts and exchanges would be mutually beneficial. Each side undertakes to facilitate the further development of such contacts and exchanges."

The drafters of the communique were prescient in writing this section, and the history of connections between the two peoples show many benefits for both sides. The Helen Foster Snow Foundation is proud to play a role in encouraging people-to-people relationships in a wide array of areas.

Helen Foster Snow understood the importance of people-to-people exchanges. Although she was not a communist, she was able to forge friendships with the early CPC leaders, her decades-long friendship with China's former foreign minister Huang Hua being one example. Huang wrote to her, "No force can reverse the deep-rooted friendship and understanding and growing ties between our two great peoples."

By expanding our view, considering a more multidimensional perspective, and making reasonable concessions to civility and diplomacy, the US and China would be able to see and understand more about each other. Looking at the totality of the relationship, for all its challenges, successes and opportunities, can remind us of what has been achieved since the signing the Shanghai Communique. The future of US-China relations will undoubtedly present challenges. It is certain that the two governments will disagree on issues which should be solved through dialogue and diplomacy.

Perhaps most importantly, US-China people-to-people ties can help China and the US recognize their common humanity and so promote peace in a shared world. Fifty years ago, the world became more prosperous and stable as a result of the Shanghai Communique, and it can once again.

The author is chairman of the Helen Foster Snow Foundation.The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn