Understanding China Conference addresses understanding deficit, calls for correcting misperception toward China

Chinese modernization entirely different from Western path, centered on peaceful development, benefits the world
The 2023 Understanding China Conference (Guangzhou), which concluded on Sunday, has become a major platform to address a significant “understanding deficit” between different countries and civilizations and to help fostering mutual trust.

As the key to understanding China is understanding Chinese modernization, which is different from Western modernization, a number of attendees to the conference told the Global Times that it’s significant to promote and increase the understanding between China and the people around the world, especially when the US’ and Western media have not only been misleading the public on China but also deliberately orchestrating and engineering hostility that has been deepening the understanding deficit.

The three-day conference, attracting 70 international guests from more than 30 countries and regions, kicked off under the theme of “China’s New Endeavors amid Unprecedented Global Changes — Expanding the Convergence of Interests and Building a Community of Shared Future” on Friday.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Understanding China Conference, which has developed into a major platform for the world to gain insight into China’s development strategies.

President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to the conference on Saturday, saying that “to understand China, the key lies in understanding Chinese modernization.”

China is advancing the noble cause of building a great country and national rejuvenation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization, and promoting the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, Xi said, noting that China’s future is closely linked with the future of humanity.

“The Understanding China Conference celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Over the past decade, we have witnessed the rapid development of China amid global changes. Knowledgeable individuals in China and worldwide have increasingly recognized a significant ‘understanding deficit’ between different countries and civilizations, and this deficit has adverse effects on fostering mutual trust,” said Zheng Bijian, founding chairman of the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy.

Zheng noted that the conference has consistently upheld the principle of three understandings – understanding China, understanding the world, and understanding the changes of the century.

Chinese modernization in focus

“I think one of the characteristics of Chinese modernization, which is profoundly different from Western modernization, is that while Western modernization was really built on exploiting the rest of the world through colonialism, Chinese modernization, as a developing country, builds a very close and constructive relationship with the developing world,” Martin Jacques, Senior Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, told the Global Times during the conference.

Chinese modernization is actually a gift…that benefits the developing world, where the great majority of the world’s population lives, whereas Western modernization was really about preventing and suppressing, Jacques said.

A key message delivered by Xi’s congratulatory letter is the importance of deepening mutual understanding and jointly addressing global challenges, demonstrating China’s determination and actions in expanding high-level openness. It also expounded on the essence of Chinese modernization that is modernization based on the peaceful development, seeking its own development while firmly maintaining world peace, and in turn, using its development to better uphold global peace and development, observers said.

We are seeing the world today with two different parts, two different narratives and two different world views, Mushahid Hussain Syed, Chairman of the Pakistani Senate’s Defense Committee and Chairman of Pakistan-China Institute, told the Global Times during the conference.

“One has been presented by the US and Western countries, which is security centered, which is military dominated with talks of conflicts, with talks of confrontation,” he said, noting that in China the world view is about connectivity, cooperation and inclusive.

China’s approach to modernization, in terms of its own people, centers on shared development, some attendees to the conference said.

“China doesn’t have an exploited working-class enduring poverty to enrich a small elite. Chinese modernization is about shared development, about everybody rising,” David Ferguson, Honorary Chief English Editor of Foreign Languages Press, told the Global Times during the conference.

It is not about exploiting other countries; it is about helping other countries to develop through things like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). “The BRI operates on a win-win approach, which says we’ve been successful in our development, and we can help you to be successful in your development, and your success can be feedback to us,” Ferguson said.

China-US ties in focus

During the conference, some discussions were focused on the relations between China and the West, especially the China-US relations following the high-stakes meeting between the heads of state of the two countries in mid-November in San Francisco.

“For me the closed-door dialogues were the most substantive and impactful,” Bert Hofman, director of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore, who attended the conference for the first time, told the Global Times on Sunday.

“I attended both the China-Europe and the China-US dialogue, and in both a frank exchange of view, deep expertise, and mutual empathy and understanding resulted in excellent discussions and several concrete options to pursue in order to improve relationships among major powers,” Hofman said.

Cui Tiankai, former Chinese ambassador to the US, said at the conference on Saturday that understanding involves addressing issues of perception. Some of the current narratives about China in the world, especially in some Western countries, are misunderstandings or intentional distortions. These misrepresentations hinder people’s accurate recognition of China’s development strategies and domestic and foreign policies, Cui said.

There are four types of misrepresentations including China’s strategic intention in the world, China’s multilateral diplomatic policies, the Taiwan question and our diplomatic styles, Cui said, who also quoted former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, calling China and the US to make joint efforts and find the right way of co-existence for the world’s development.

“The recent San Francisco meeting was a sort of a good stop to the presence of deterioration which had been pretty headlong. However, maybe it can stabilize a bit, but there is still a long way from having a really serious relationship,” Jacques told the Global Times.

However, some experts believe that it’s difficult to address the understanding deficit between the US and China, especially when the US is deliberately creating and orchestrating hostility toward China among American people.

“The key action China can take in response is to recognize that the political and media audience in the US is not listening,” Ferguson said, suggesting that China should shift its focus to engage with a more receptive audience – ordinary people in the US.

“China talks too much to an abstract and general American. China needs to talk to ordinary people, engaging with them on a human level by telling them stories and by explaining to the ordinary people in the US that China isn’t their enemy,” he said.

Global Times


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