How do American students view the Sino-U.S. relationship?

2015-09-23By Yuan Quan,Tang Yudi

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William Weightman, an International Politics and Economics major from New England’s Middlebury College, is answering a question from audience on the "From University to the World" Dialogue held by China Radio International in Beijng, on Sept. 22. Chen Duo Xinhua/China Features   

Asked whether China and the United States are adversaries or friends, Chris Vandiford, a third-year U.S. university economics major, replied with an analogy of kinship.

“I have a brother, and sometimes we fight, but we are family. No matter what, we love each other,” he said. “I think it is similar for our two countries.”

The answer earned applause during a China Radio International live broadcast English dialogue on Tuesday. Five U.S. and five Chinese college students were discussing understanding between the two countries on the same day Chinese President Xi Jinping started his first state visit to the United States since he took office.

His answer was echoed by a survey showing that 46 percent of 100 American college students think China and the United States remain “both friends and rivals”, and 32 percent view the two countries as “partners”.

Elizabeth Woods, a student at George Washington University, was studying Chinese language and culture in Beijing. She perceived Xi as “a reasonable person”, due to his order to cut troop numbers and his campaign against government corruption.

“I really respect him for these two honorable things.” 

Xi announced a reduction of 300,000 troops on Sept. 3 before a grand parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the world’s defeat of Fascism.

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The dialogue has been offered for four consecutive years, and it is for the first time on live web broadcast. Chen Duo Xinhua/China Features

Even so, the military budget remained a concern on the other side of the Pacific. A student at Temple University, Jack Johnson, raised a thorny question online to Chinese students: “Why waste your money on weapons when you have so many mouths to feed?”

“Having mouths to feed doesn’t mean that we don’t need to defend ourselves. It’s not mutually exclusive,” answered Zhao Chongrui, a Chinese student majoring in international politics and journalism.

The grand parade impressed William Weightman, an international politics and economics major at New England’s Middlebury College. As well as the goose-stepping spectacle, he was awed by the blue skies that day, pointing out that it was hard to imagine his country banning vehicles from the roads and stopping coal-fueled furnaces for such an event. 

Since U.S. President Richard Nixon's ice-breaking visit to China in 1972, bilateral exchanges and cooperation in economics, culture, education and other fields have continued to deepen, along with mutual understanding.  

A survey showed that a majority of 400 Chinese college students thought the keywords representing the United States were “democracy” and “superpower”, while U.S. counterparts picked “populous nation” and “emerging power” to describe China.

Elizabeth Woods found WeChat similar in many ways to U.S. social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, and she texted her Chinese classmates through the instant messaging service.

She could name the traditional Chinese festivals in Mandarin and said five-nuts-flavored moon cakes were her favorite. She was looking forward to China’s National Holiday in October, as it would mean a couple of days off.    

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Ten college students from the United States and China took part in the dialogue in Beijing. Chen Duo Xinhua/China Features

People of both sides also saw many similarities in everyday life.

Asked what she thought of Chinese female students inviting each other to go to bathroom together, she said, “We do that too. If you watch American TV shows or movies, you can see plenty of examples. Where else are you going to gossip and talk about boys?” Her answer raised a laugh from the audience.

Many U.S. students also recommend places or food for President Xi and expected his visit would be “productive” with talks with President Barack Obama covering cyber security, economic policies, and international issues.

“We can disagree, we can argue, but keeping a friendly or more positive relationship is better for all,” said Chris. 

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