Besides being very amusing when translated, Chinese proverbs are often very insightful to Chinese culture and the Chinese way of thinking. One of my favorites is: Three feet of ice is not created with one day’s cold temperature (冰冻三尺非一日之寒).
Obama’s trip to China served as a small contribution to decades of hot and cold U.S. – China relations. Many expected him to take one trip to China and solve all trade, currency, economic, human rights, and political issues; such way of thinking betrays a misunderstanding of China. In China, relationships are built slowly and gradually over time. In such public forum, with topics on the table that are so pertinent to China’s national interests it would be wildly peculiar if China gave the United States any headway in negotiations. It is typical and should have been expected that nothing (at least from a U.S. perspective) would be accomplished.
Expecting substantial progress in negotiations after only one trip to China is a common pitfall among Americans in the political and business atmosphere. For example, a New York-based investor relations boutique recently sent a Chinese consultant to China to address business development needs and to sells its company’s services. It provided the Chinese consultant with a list of companies, or leads, to call and to meet with. It called the consultant two or three times a week asking for progress updates, to see if any new accounts had been gained. When the consultant returned to the U.S. after one month’s time, the U.S. client was stunned to see that no new clients signed onto contracts for its services. The consultant reported that it had met with several of the leads on the list, had lunch or dinner with them, and even made friends with a few. To the Chinese consultant, this was progress; the U.S. client saw it as a waste of time and even more so a waste of its resources. Needless to say, both parties were displeased.
We didn’t really expect President Obama to spend 2 days in China and solve decades worth of China-related issues, did we? Some of us did — which leads me to my final Chinese proverb which properly addresses our current state of U.S.- China relations: When you need a person you should suspect them, and even though you suspect a person, you may still need them (用人要疑疑人要用).