Brookings Institution's Dr. Cheng Li Addresses China's Political Scene

China's current political course is a little like an airline pilot flying somewhere over the Pacific who says, "I have good news and bad news: the good news is that we are ahead of schedule, and the bad news is that we are lost."

That was the analogy presented by Dr. Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings, who visited Hotchkiss on Feb. 12. as part the faculty symposium series hosted by the Center for Global Understanding and Independent Thinking.

Li, who is a leading scholar on China's politics and foreign relations, met with faculty and students to discuss China's changing political scene.

Li spoke about Sino-U.S. relations, noting his concern of the "new McCarthyism" directed toward China and the Chinese people in the United States. He pointed to areas of unfair media coverage, including fear expressed about Confucius Institutes, like Hotchkiss's own Confucius Classroom that are criticized as being tools of government propaganda.

He also talked about the recent criticism of the China's international investment initiative strategy that has been dubbed the "new Silk Road." A major concern of the West is that China is trying to create a new international order with itself at the head.

Li concluded that it doesn't make sense for the U.S. to see China mainly as an "enemy" locked in a zero-sum game, and that America would benefit more from cooperation than confrontation.

Prep Claire Wang gained insight into how the two nations are linked, and an understanding that the current tension between them is temporary. "That's a really important thing to understand for Chinese students studying in America," she said.

Any conflict between the two nations, Li said, would not arise from a difference in ideology, but rather as a result of misguided leadership. In the end, though, Li was guardedly optimistic about U.S. and China relations. Drawing from a famous line from the 1967 film, The Graduate, in which "plastics" were touted as the key to the future, he said, "Today's 'plastics' is China."