President Barack Obama’s three-day trip to China earlier this month, his second as president, proved to be ultimately successful. Sessions with Chinese President Xi Jinping resulted in agreements on limiting carbon emissions -- a huge accomplishment considering that China has long argued that it should be exempt form cutting carbon pollution.
“Obama’s trip and the agreements that he reached was an unheralded coup,” says Tom Doctoroff, the Shanghai-based Asia CEO of J. Walter Thompson. “Getting to ‘yes’ in these circumstances was a win for both sides and left me more optimistic about our ability to collaborate, and optimistic about the inherent pragmatism of the current regime.”
Still, America’s relationship with China is not all roses. In a recent editorial, Beijing-based and state-run Chinese newspaper, the Global Times called America, “too lazy to reform,” and said that President Obama was doing an “insipid” job. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne, China perceives the U.S. as a failing economy and world power, while the U.S. views China as a monster economy that is growing rapidly. If these exaggerated perceptions are seen as threatening, argues Browne, they could lead to widespread disagreement between the two countries and even a potential military conflict.
“The Chinese have very ambivalent feelings regarding [America],” says Doctoroff.
“But make no mistake,” he says, many Chinese citizens still want to come to America to study and work for American firms “because they offer impartial opportunity.”
According to Doctoroff, America is viewed as an absolutist country in China. “They think that we have a monopoly on the truth and [they] disagree with that fundamentally. The Chinese are profound pragmatists and relativists. So when we start preaching about the global order we have to tone it down a little and bring it back into a pragmatic question of efficiency.”
The U.S. and China are strategic competitors, says Doctoroff, there is hostility but also agreement—and as of late, more agreement than ever.