Yesterday, first lady Michelle Obama, her mother and daughters, arrived in China for a visit. The Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan will accompany them on a visit to the Forbidden City and then have dinner together and watch performances. “First lady diplomacy” has no involvement with political, economic and other serious issues between China and the United States. Rather, it focuses on the fields of culture and education. It will help create a friendly atmosphere between China and the United States, which is precisely what the two countries need most right now.
There are a series of political and economic differences between China and the U.S. that need to be addressed, but as soon as a solution to solve an issue is found, another problem emerges. There is an emphasis on the establishment of mutual trust between China and the United States, but the reality is that this trust between the two countries is very fragile. In actuality, mutual suspicion will be more of a norm between the two countries for a long time.
Competing countries need to demonstrate friendliness to each other and do so through nonpolitical fields, which help dilute heavy conflicts of interest. In fact, the notion of a major world power still conjures memories of the Cold War. The first step to the establishment of relations of new major powers is that the parties should not fall victim to suspicion but should still remain alert. Historical experience shows that falling into that pattern is not ideal.
This “first lady diplomacy” will help dilute diplomatic tensions. Each country is bringing a camera crew, which will give the public a relaxed and intimate look at the visit. This visit will certainly not solve the real problems between China and the United States, but it can at least give those issues a change of backdrop.
This “form” can be adjusted and modified according to the rhythm of Sino-U.S. relations and bring about improvement to the relations between the countries, as well as the people. The two countries will look at their disputes with the public in mind but not to the extent that it would impact relations too negatively.
Beyond “first lady diplomacy,” there should be more friendly exchanges, like this one occurring with no involvement in political or economic issues and instead just a purely friendly exchange that is innovative captures the public’s attention and allows the two countries to see each other face-to-face.
But do not think that the exchanges with the U.S. have been perfect. They are great on the surface, but because of distrust in Sino-U.S. relations, the result of these exchanges is complex. Purely friendly exchanges cannot overcome the distrust in the relations between China and the United States.
The way China and the U.S. interact with each other is already rare in the history of human relations among major world powers. It’s hard to say whether these exchanges are temporary or just superficial, or if they actually represent progress in human civilization. The answer to this will ultimately determine the nature of international relations in the 21st century.
We are currently standing at the crossroads of relations between great powers, and this will decide the future of how countries interact with each other. We hope that Sino-U.S. diplomacy will be influenced by the positive energy from the interactions between the two first ladies. We also hope that there will be more positive energy coming from nonpolitical fields between China and more and more countries.