Trump-Xi meeting a critical first step toward a unified path forward
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It’s a long way from Beijing to the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will hold their first face-to-face meeting.

Chinese government officials and American diplomats stationed in the Chinese capital city are guardedly optimistic that the two presidents will establish a new path forward for the world’s leading economic and geopolitical powers.

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With growing uncertainty about trade imbalances, territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas and nuclear threats from North Korea, the meeting stakes couldn’t be higher or more urgent.

 

Meanwhile, you can see the hopeful faces of young people from both countries on the streets of Beijing. From young Americans studying here to Chinese students aspiring to attend our colleges and universities, the rising generation wants to work together.

As the Beijing-based president of a program that promotes Mandarin language learning and China study abroad, I have seen first-hand how these efforts strengthen the U.S.-China relationship, creating connections that reduce tensions and build trust.

When American and Chinese leaders learn about each other’s countries — their cultures, histories, politics and people — they build bonds of understanding that encourage problem-solving, not saber-rattling.

Moreover, people-to-people exchanges serve as ballast, enabling the U.S.-China relationship to weather difficult storms. In times of tension, American and Chinese policymakers rely on personal ties, informal communications and their understandings of each other to prevent manageable problems from becoming major crises.

When we call the U.S.-China relationship the most consequential in the world, it isn’t just rhetoric; it’s reality. Our countries’ roles in the world are too crucial not to collaborate, not only bilaterally, but globally.

No major global challenge can be solved successfully without the U.S. and China engaging with one another. When we seek to stabilize the world economy, we should remember that the U.S. and China have the world’s largest and second-largest gross domestic products.

When we try to make sure that our kids can breathe clean air, we can’t forget that China and the U.S. are number one and two in the world in carbon dioxide emissions. And, when we aim to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we must to leverage China’s relationships with Iran and North Korea.

U.S.-China cooperation isn’t only about overcoming obstacles; it’s about making the most of opportunities. Despite tensions on trade, China offers Americans economic opportunities. If we don’t make the most of them, we’re leaving money on the table.

In 2015 — the last year for which complete statistics are available — bilateral trade between the U.S. and China reached a record $659.4 billion, making us one another’s top trading partners. At the same time, the U.S. exported $161.6 billion in goods and services to China, including high-value-added products such as aircraft, machinery, vehicles and electrical equipment.

The Chinese market is crucial to increasing American exports and growing our economy. By selling our products and services in China, and welcoming Chinese investment into our communities, we support jobs and build businesses at home. However, to compete and win in China, we also need to understand and appreciate China. It’s just that simple.

Currently, Chinese young people are learning more about America than young Americans are learning about China. During the 2015-2016 academic year, there were 328,547 Chinese students in the U.S. Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2014, more than 100,000 Americans studied in China.

Great focus is being put on U.S. Mandarin language learning as well. During a summit meeting in 2015, then-President Obama and President Xi announced the 1 Million Strong initiative to increase the number of American elementary, middle school and high school students who are studying Mandarin from 200,000 to one million by 2020. The goal is ambitious but achievable.

Through this cross-cultural understanding, which begins with American and Chinese students, we can begin to better manage the U.S.-China relationship.

The meeting at Mar-a-Lago will serve as an important starting point for Presidents Trump and Xi to address some of our greatest shared challenges — from territorial disputes and North Korean provocations to trade imbalances.

But they should also use it as an opportunity to put greater focus on stronger U.S.-China relations through robust people-to-people ties.

 

Based in Beijing, Travis Tanner is president of the U.S.-China Strong Foundation, which seeks to expand and diversify the number of Americans learning Mandarin and studying in China. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.