From Ping Pong to Ding Dong – Tale of 2 Chinas
US-China relations soured last week with US President-elect Donald Trump threatening to scuttle the “One China Policy.”
He was reacting to Chinese complaint that he should not talk to Taiwan’s leader who called to congratulate his election win.
Trump, not known for protocol, was understandably annoyed. But he was playing into the hands of his enemies in the media who like him, lacked depth about what “One-China” stood for.
Trump tweeted he may renegotiate the policy. It was, not a good move.
Why is that? For a start, it is almost irreversible unless a mega quake swallows China or if it was struck by an asteroid.
To understand “One China”, we need to go back 45 years when it all began.
Then, there were 2 Chinas: the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or Mainland China and the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan.
Until 1971, Taiwan had the UN seat. It had signed the UN Charter in 1946 when there was one China.
But as years went by, many countries felt the real China was the PRC. The Kuomintang (KMT) regime that fled to Taiwan in 1949, was only legitimate under the eyes of the US and its allies.
But after 23 years, Taiwan was looking less credible with just 20 million people versus a billion on the Mainland. Also, the KMT was looking less likely to recapture Beijing.
So it came the time when US President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger decided it would be a good opportunity to widen the rift between Soviet Russia and China.
Russian and Chinese soldiers had clashed at Xinjiang in 1969 over territory but the seven-month battle was kept quiet.
Nixon and Kissinger hoped that by recognizing Beijing, they would in one bold stroke, break the Communist alliance.
Beijing on its own could, they calculated, be good for global security and stability. The US can then concentrate its efforts to beat its true superpower rival, the USSR.
Ping Pong Diplomacy as it was called, warmed up ties. This superpower rebalance was best personified by Tom Hanks in “Forest Gump.”
In this fictional tale by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, Gump competes as part of the US team. The movie won Best Picture and a Best Actor Oscar for Hanks.
In February 1972, Nixon made his groundbreaking trip to Beijng, shaking hands with Chairman Mao Zedong, posing with adorable Chinese children and standing in freezing temperatures atop the Great Wall to signify the thaw.
But it was to take another decade before Chairman Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s eventual successor, instated reforms that would put China on an economic boom: the fastest and mightiest in human history.
When Mao died in 1976, the country had been dragged through the disastrous Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) by the Gang of Four led by his last wife Jiang Qing.
Towards the end, Mao was vegetable and the Four ran the show. The result was sheer madness and many millions died.
The Gang was finally overthrown and jailed. After her trial in 1981, Jiang Qing committed suicide and her cohorts died in captivity.
The new chairman Deng had a tough task, the country was in ruins. But he had seen the future on a trip to Southeast Asia in 1978.
He visited Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The prosperity in these cities, much of them built by hardworking Chinese migrants, reinforced his belief that the answer lies not in socialist dogma, but the free market in action.
By allowing citizens to own cash and property, not only would people work harder, they would save more and invest for the future.
China did not even have a million dollars in foreign reserves in 1980. But it had friends who did.
No bank would lend to China for its Daya Bay Nuclear Plant that was started in 1985. But with the help of Hong Kong-based Lord Kadoorie, Beijing received the funds for its power site that served Shenzhen, the new economic zone and Hong Kong.
“Beijing never forgot Kadoorie’s friendship,” says a veteran Daya Bay executive. Today China builds its own nuclear plants and Shenzhen is a model for other economic zones.
It is hard to imagine when China was so poor. In Thailand, CP Group played a key role in facilitating commerce when few countries did business with the Mainland.
Then, no one in China had money to buy motorcycles. But their relatives overseas did. CP arranged for receiving payments in Hong Kong and shipping the cargo to China.
That was how goods were traded just 30 years ago. Alibaba would not exist if not for Deng.
The moral of this tale of 2 Chinas is this. It would be helpful for Trump and his advisors to recognize the road the US and China travelled to get here.
To be sure, it is easy for many Americans to be annoyed by the Chinese who seem to be doing so well.
They seem to be buying all the expensive real estate in New York and other cities like London and Hong Kong. Meanwhile many Americans lost their homes in the 2007-2008 Crash.
Chinese children also seem to be getting into all the top schools while many American can’t even afford the fees. And they seem to be getting all the high paying jobs.
In the eye of many Americans, this isn’t fair. One cannot blame Trump and China critics for harboring such anger.
And to be fair, the rich Chinese who flaunt their wealth so recklessly have themselves to blame for stoking such hatred.
In Thailand, many locals also feel annoyed at the exploitative nature of Mainland tourist rings that feed on the land like locusts, leaving it with nothing by using zero-dollar holiday schemes.
Beijing is the first to baulk at such behavior. President Xi Jinping is the fiercest opponent of abusive Chinese officials because bad behavior had sparked unrest not only abroad but in China itself.
The poor in China are just as outraged of not more.
Xi realizes the cost of getting here, becoming the second largest economy in the world, has come with a heavy price and much sacrifice from many bloody wars and millions of lives lost. No country in the world ever paid such a price.
Hong Kong-based US entrepreneur Alan Zeman can recall just how much has changed.
“China was a very, very poor place when I first went there in the Seventies,” says Zeman from New York. “They had very little, no electricity, forget tap water.”
Zeman, who has invested in Phuket, is also founder of Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s entertainment district.
Ironically in those years the richest people seem to be the Americans, who looked like they had everything: money, big houses, cars, electric gadgets. People envied them, some thought it was unfair.
Why do they seem to have so much and the rest of the world so little?
Trump can spend a minute on this. Beijing too can reflect on this. It’s all about making countries great again.
Top: Chairman Deng Xiaoping is met by Lee Kuan Yew in 1978. His tour of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore would shape free market policies in China.
First inset: US President Richard Nixon greets a little girl as Zhou Enlai looks on in February 1971
Second inset: Beijing delegates react with joy as the People’s Republic of China obtains the UN seat in 1971.
Below: Tom Hanks plays ‘Forest Gump’ who is part of the US Ping Pong team that opens up China ties.
By Cimi Suchontan