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Michael Maccoby
Scholar

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Mutual understanding

Question: Americans now view China as the biggest threat to U.S. economic and military interests. What leadership advice would you give to President Hu for creating a more positive political climate for U.S.-China relations?

Presidents Hu and Obama will be more likely to avoid misunderstandings by recognizing the pressures and limitations each faces and how these are shaped by different traditions and cultural values.

The founding fathers of the United States established a republic to further liberty and justice for all citizens. American history is riddled with debates and conflicts over the meaning of these values. Our democratic processes and Constitutional separation of powers make it difficult to agree on common policies. However, a majority of Americans today do agree on the need to strengthen the economy and, particularly, to create more jobs.

In contrast, throughout its long history Chinese culture has valued harmony and cooperation. When the center has been weak, regions have split off and caused conflict. Now, with sudden prosperity, Chinese leaders fear fragmentation and a demanding peasant population that has been left behind. Chinese leaders believe their continued authority depends on maintaining strong central power and continuing to grow the economy to meet the needs of the peasant population.

Inevitably, the U.S. and China will continue to have differences; but we are closely linked economically, and conflict would be mutually damaging. The better we understand each other, the more likely we will avoid conflict and find opportunities to collaborate, such as developing alternative energy.

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By Michael Maccoby

 |  January 19, 2011; 10:38 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Followership , Government leadership , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Having ignored endless entreaties from US Presidents, treasury secretaries and secretaries of State from Clinton presidency to Obama’s until now, President Hu is NOT going to heed any advice from any American on US-China relations.

China has continued its mercantilist trade policies with ever increasing trade surpluses and forex reserves ignoring all such entreaties. And US businesses are as much at fault as Chinese policies for such one way trade because they are hooked to huge profits that cheap Chinese products generate for them.

China has continued to prop up North Korean regime despite all the US entreaties against it.

China has continued to trade with Iran despite all the US entreaties against it.

US is whistling in the wind if it can advise China to bend on such issues when China has its own priorities about them. Bent on replacing US as super power, China could care less about such advice.

To use old Rooseveltian adage, Chinese President ‘spoke softly but carried a big stick’ during his US visit.

China’s rise to super power status to challenge US is a fitting monument to the much-celebrated foresight of Nixon-Kissinger to embrace China to counter Soviet Union in 1972 just as 9/11 attacks is a fitting monument to Reagan embrace of Islamic fundamentalists to counter Soviet Union in 1980s Afghanistan.

Posted by: martymartel3 | January 22, 2011 9:53 AM
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I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that China and the U.S. are now intertwined on a level to where it would be harmful to both nations if one were to falter economically. That being said, I still believe that despite our co-dependance, it is imperative that we do not compromise our values and beliefs for the sake of mutual understanding. I agree that our present economic condition will benefit from recognizing the fundamental cultural differences between our two nations, but worry about what we could potentially lose in the process. I agree that mutual understanding is beneficial, but only as long as the U.S. doesn't compromise its democratic values in the process.

I would also argue that mutual understanding is a great step forward, but that it is only the first step on a long journey. Having an understanding of the U.S. doesn't guarantee that anything will change between the two nations. The mutual understanding must be backed up by concrete plans to foster positive relations between the two nations. President Hu and President Obama must find ways to improve relations between their respective countries without compromising the beliefs that their nations hold dear, which is much easier said than done.

Posted by: paulgabraham | January 21, 2011 12:28 PM
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While having both Presidents Hu and Obama reach a point of mutual understanding as Maccoby suggests would go a long way to creating a more positive political environment, having merely leaders understand each other does nothing to positively impact the overall understanding of the countries at the citizen level nor does it set up positive relations in the future. Instead, President Hu should establish a positive portrayal of himself now and in the future through a series of positive relations. These relations whether substantial or trivial will raise the awareness of President Hu as a leader and allow the American public and political system to know and understand him as we enter the next stage in globalization.

Sustained positive interactions over time set a precedent of friendliness to fall back upon as tensions and misunderstandings of the different cultures and traditions that Maccoby mentions emerge. Also considering the relatively short nature of American presidential terms to Chinese leadership tenure, President Hu must establish a political relationship that extends beyond today and the current administration into the future. The leadership of today must constantly keep in mind the relationships of tomorrow so that these two cultures, so often divided might begin to reach understanding and commonality that would be mutually beneficial in the future and help eliminate the fear of the unknown.

Posted by: katskilton | January 21, 2011 2:24 AM
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While having both Presidents Hu and Obama reach a point of mutual understanding as Maccoby suggests would go a long way to creating a more positive political environment, having merely leaders understand each other does nothing to positively impact the overall understanding of the countries at the citizen level nor does it set up positive relations in the future. Instead, President Hu should establish a positive portrayal of himself now and in the future through a series of positive relations. These relations whether substantial or trivial will raise the awareness of President Hu as a leader and allow the American public and political system to know and understand him as we enter the next stage in globalization.

Sustained positive interactions over time set a precedent of friendliness to fall back upon as tensions and misunderstandings of the different cultures and traditions that Maccoby mentions emerge. Also considering the relatively short nature of American presidential terms to Chinese leadership tenure, President Hu must establish a political relationship that extends beyond today and the current administration into the future. The leadership of today must constantly keep in mind the relationships of tomorrow so that these two cultures, so often divided might begin to reach understanding and commonality that would be mutually beneficial in the future and help eliminate the fear of the unknown.

Posted by: katskilton | January 21, 2011 2:23 AM
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Maccoby did well to point out the rather huge difference in the cultures of leadership and government between the US and China. In the eyes of both leaders, their own methods and ideologies are better. And I think much of the tension between the US and China exist because America expects China (and the rest of the world really) to follow its values; China on the other hand stubbornly persists in its own way and expects America to accept them.
Both Hu and Obama realise that their nations' fates are currently too tied up, and they will strive to work together. If they are to work around these differences, and a good start would be to try to understand each other. But I think it is more important that both nations approach each other with less rigid expectations of each other. They should also be more willing to compromise every now and then to overcome their cultural differences.

Posted by: ZechariahLau | January 20, 2011 12:24 AM
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