Photo taken on October 28, 2021 shows the White House in Washington, D.C., the United States (XINHUA)
Understanding one another is a difficult task, whether among citizens or between nations. Misunderstanding occurs as a result of disparities in culture, history, ideology, or political systems.
"But it is essential for our nations (the United States and China) to appreciate the other," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in his greeting message to the 2021 Understanding China Conference.
For decades, a group of renowned U.S. China hands, including the late Harvard scholar Ezra Vogel, who helped bridge the United States and East Asia, have dedicated their careers to studying and then introducing China to the American public, so that the two countries could better understand and cooperate with each other.
Unfortunately, the past few years have witnessed how a cohort of charlatans, who claimed to be experts on China, managed to incite hostility towards the Asian country rather than bridging the U.S. understanding gap about it.
Charlatans crawling out of the woodwork
A news junkie today could easily lose count of the number of self-proclaimed "China experts" quoted by U.S. news outlets, who either smear China or extol the importance of confronting China in critical fields.
"Throughout the various government administrations, I believe I had a pretty good understanding of who the (China) experts were and who, in fact, was influencing the decision makers," wrote Chi Wang, president of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation who previously served as the head of the Chinese section at the U.S. Library of Congress.
Today, however, individuals who have no qualms over claiming expertise "are crawling out of the woodwork," Wang lamented, warning that it is easy to pretend to be an expert when no one is checking the credentials.
"It seems everyone with a pen, an opinion, and an audience is suddenly somehow an expert on arguably the most complex bilateral relationship in the world," said Wang, also a professor of U.S.-China relations and modern China at U.S. Georgetown University.
Failing to study and comprehend why China's development path fits its national conditions, those "China experts" blatantly attempt to tamper with history by claiming that the U.S. policy of engagement with China had gone under because Washington had failed to "induce change" in it.
Lacking knowledge about how traditional Chinese thoughts including Confucianism came to shape Chinese social interactions, and how human rights operate in China, those "China experts" have relentlessly launched a smear campaign after the Chinese rejected their projection of a Western way of thinking on China.
People visit the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the United States, on January 17 (XINHUA)
"I would say the West does not understand China. It makes precious little attempt to try to understand China," Martin Jacques, a well-known British China scholar, said in an interview with Chinese media.
"Because Westerners have been brought up to essentially believe their way of doing things is the exemplar for the rest of the world and the Western paradigm is superior to all others," said Jacques, who until recently was a Senior Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University.
Speculators pushing own agenda
Among those self-proclaimed U.S. "China experts," some are constantly competing for prominence in the field by selectively using texts to push their policy preferences.
In the past years, some U.S. pundits have joined the political and military elites in Washington to peddle the so-called "Chinese military threat" by selectively quoting reports on the Chinese defense budget.
"There is a lot of selective listening going on among American securocrats and pundits, who filter out Chinese explanations of what China is doing and replace these with their own speculation and conjecture about what the Chinese ought to be doing to be able to contend with us for global hegemony," Chas Freeman, the U.S. retired diplomat who served as late U.S. President Nixon's interpreter during his 1972 trip to China, said at a Middle East Policy Council event.
"Without such a threat from China, it is increasingly difficult to justify perpetuation of the huge force structure and defense industrial base we developed to do battle with the USSR," he noted.
Unlike those speculators who sought prominence by deliberately demonizing China's peaceful development, Freeman, also the director for Chinese affairs at the U.S. State Department from 1979 to 1981, sought to understand China's relationship with the rest of the world by studying its rich repository of ancient ideas.
"China is still the homeland of the great strategist, Sunzi, and it takes seriously his insight that the best wars are those that are never fought," he said.
After introducing to his audience China's subjugation by Western and Japanese imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries and enumerating the challenges of governing China, Freeman correctly concluded that China has a great many things about domestic development on its mind and "not much inclination to pick fights with foreigners."
"Not surprisingly, China's leaders have made the maintenance of a peaceful international environment the organizing principle of their foreign policy," he said.
People wait for COVID-19 testing in the Queens borough of New York, the United States, on December 29, 2021 (XINHUA)
Bigots fossilized by cold war thinking
Ever since COVID-19 broke out about two years ago, every aspect of the still ravaging pandemic has exposed America's poor governance and devastating inequalities to both Americans and the rest of the world.
The myth of the United States as the so-called "beacon of democracy" was further shattered by the U.S. Capitol riots as well as the botched and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.
To restore the U.S. image as the leader of Western democracy, some U.S. experts and politicians have since then colluded to divert attention from the deep-seated problems within the U.S. democratic systems and portray China as the nemesis of the so-called "Free World."
As a result, the U.S. media, often with its own anti-China agenda, is now flooded with such sensational and tabloid-like headlines as "The Free World vs. China and Friends: It's ideology, stupid," in which self-claimed "China experts" clamor for an ideological showdown with China.
For the old generation of true China hands in the United States, though, it is crystal clear that China has no intention of exporting any ideology.
In his opening remarks at a one-on-one discussion hosted by the Institute of Peace & Diplomacy in September 2021, Freeman said that "inventing... predatory ideological aspirations for China serves domestic U.S. political purposes."
"The contest between America and China is not primarily military or ideological. It is about relative national strength and performance. China seems more focused on this reality than the United States," he said.
Photo taken on September 17, 2021 shows the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the United States (XINHUA)
It was also around this time that those "China experts," already hardened by Cold War thinking and ideological bigotry, willingly accepted the lies and fabrications of Adrian Zenz, a German right-wing religious extremist who has churned out a slew of ill-founded, sensational accusations against China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Adrian Zenz is not a so-called "expert on China studies," but a member of the far-right group "Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation" sponsored by the U.S. government. He is also a key figure in an anti-China organization set up by U.S. intelligence agencies and a notorious racist.
However, some U.S. experts and politicians are more than ready to accept the so-called findings of Zenz's unreviewed research that falsely claims that Xinjiang has carried out "forced sterilization" on the Uygur women despite significant rumor debunking by studies based on reliable sources.
People are programmed to believe whatever they want to believe. What distinguishes a true scholar from an imposter who pursues only self-interest is the former's dedication to the study of truth.
As the old generation of China experts in America retires, some are concerned that a new generation of U.S. scholars who truly understand China has yet to emerge.
"These pseudo-experts clamoring for their voices to be heard only add to the noise and make it increasingly difficult for policymakers and the average reader alike to come to informed conclusions about China and its relationship with the United States," Wang said.
Everyone who understands the importance of keeping China-U.S. relations on track should keep such an admonishment by an old China hand in mind.