Another way for countries to "prepare" for China

There is a better way to understand China.  A better way to prepare America, and other countries  with how to best deal with China.  China is not a new phenomena.  To give one scope and perspective, at the time of the American Revolution, China already was a nation of 200 million people.  America would not reach that population for 200 years.  

Now China is with us again.  For better, the West needs to learn in an organized, effective way how best to understand, appreciate and deal with China.   If not, relations will simply over time deteriorate and bump from crisis to crisis.  All over America, there are Mandarin programs popping up in schools.    Local Chinese communities within America themselves lead the way.    Traditionally, the United States govt has also led the way, in terms of programs that teach language proficiency.   The DLI program, the CIA, State Dept, etc.   But there is a huge disconnect there.  

These are programs that are taught in house, after one has been accepted into the particular program.   These programs are important for a reason.   Unlike in most other countries, the USA does not consider one’s fluency in a 2nd language or country expertise when accepting someone into a program.  For example,  one becomes accepted into the foreign service first, you see, than they teach you the language(perverse, I know.  It apparently makes too much sense to accept someone at least partially based on the language skills they already have). 

Government background checks today are so risk adverse(and  America so politically correct) that having lived in China for any length of time before applying(unless with the Peace Corps) actually is often held against you.    Lo and behold you marry a Chinese! (that makes you a potential spy) It takes 2 years of full time study within China itself to have a proper grasp of the language.   I’m not speaking of the culture, just the language.    That is defined as 4 hours of full time study per day.  Almost unheard of today, as young people don’t wish to sacrifice their time for full time study, and naively think they can learn the language on the fly.  

Impacting change within a foreign country means learning how the target country thinks, and how it operates.  A good first step is language training.  Only than can one utilize that knowledge to understand the culture, which is what America sorely needs.  As does every other Western country.    To this degree, to my knowledge, there is no organized method sponsored in the West today, that emphasizes not only language training, but cultural training on a longterm basis.  By this, I mean 3-4 organized years of living within the target country.   

Who would want to waste their time in country with no promise of a payoff?  After all, having Chinese language skills and cultural expertise flies in the face of reality.     Those same corporations that bemoan the lack of  American expertise as regards China themselves never stress language skills when interviewing for a job!  In particular, entry level jobs.   Many simply hire local Chinese graduate students, rather than take the private initiative to ensure they have a competent cadre of American managers proficient in the Chinese culture.

I use the large USA company I worked for in Shanghai, as an example.   While I was stationed in Shanghai, I was one of only two expatriate managers that spoke Chinese.   The other spoke it sparingly.  Ironically enough, our least competent manager was ironically a mainland Chinese transplant from Detroit.  (One fellow with a strong background in China was refused a transfer to Shanghai and promptly quit).   Large companies continue to think they can manage through translators, or local Chinese that speak English.  The problem with that comparison is the higher one goes up in rank, as regards ones communications with Chinese suppliers or partners, the less likely he will deal with someone who speaks English(but I have a translator!).   The assumption of course is that your culturally proficient employee also has the professional skills necessary to add value.

Wall Street and many other talking heads moan and groan about the lack of people we have in society that understand China.   When pressed, they further clarify, “people within high positions”. 
Oh, well I have a question:  how will those in high positions have time to learn the language of our largest rival?   One can only hope that those that come here to China while young, will stay long enough to get a firm footing on both the language and culture.  How do we encourage young people to come to China to invest their time?   How can we motivate these young people?

First, the USA has to understand in plain terms that China is a rival, and will be a rival more so than a partner for the foreseeable future.   The USA therefore needs a plan to better cope with and understand China.  It needs to think out of the box.   It needs people that can represent the USA, while in China’s backyard, comfortably dealing with China, simultaneously having China understand that these people have the full backing and confidence of the USA govt, and of industry.   How do we do this?

1.       The USA needs to create and fund a special study program for young, ambitious Americans, that will send them to study in China for 2 full years.  These kids will not be allowed to return to America during this time frame.
2.       These candidates will only be allowed to study in more isolated parts of China(smaller cities), where they are not constantly surrounded by the trappings of American culture.   Their education, and expenses will be fully paid.
3.       They will need to take a yearly exam, if not every semester, to qualify to stay within the program.
4.       They will be guaranteed  substantive, full time jobs by the US govt.   They will either join the Foreign Svc(that means skipping the worthless oral exam,and NOT having to sit at a desk issuing visa’s, or be responsible for buying lightbulbs), or some other program, where knowledge of China is invaluable.
5.       They will be required to work for the USA gov’t for a 10 year period.   Once that period is up, they will be allowed to utilize their skills on Wall Street, or what have you.
6.       They will of course have a skill.  ie, a degree in something before travelling to China.
7.       I’d recommend the USA send 10-20 students per year, scattered throughout China.
The main impetus is representing the USA in some value added aspect.  It does not mean going back to America to sit behind a desk translating documents.   Yes, I understand the USA “doesn’t operate this way”, but special challenges and situations require out of the box solutions.    We cannot develop a core of Chinese specialists the “conventional” way.  There must be the lure of prestige and status conveyed upon this program. 

Why don’t we just hire Chinese graduate students to do the job?  Answer:  they don’t understand American culture.   (refer back to my post on assimilation as a guide) They would not necessarily be able to represent American interests in an impartial way.   They cannot be counted upon to live longterm in America.   In short, this is a lazy solution.   Large companies are full of helpful, competent, good and hard working Chinese.   All the more a reflection of large companies unwillingness to foster a local, native competence to better communicate with our rival.   It’s far easier to complain in the papers about our “lack” of qualified personnel than it is to strategically prepare your workforce.

It is sad, ironic, but reflective of our society that America’s China experts already exist, and do so in abundance(my own SWAG is there are probably a hundred truly competent China Hands in China today, scattered anonymously about, within China.  ( I’m sorry, but if you don’t speak Chinese, you don’t count.).   Yet, as they are not individuals with “influence within society”, they are neither recognized as such nor utilized.  

The Americans with true China experience live in China today, and certainly do not work for the US govt.  By nature, they are not conformist (would a person with a conventional, conformist mentality go on his own initiative to China to learn Chinese?)

They have lived in China for so long, they would never be able to PASS a background check, and thus would forever be precluded from representing America in it’s dealings with China.    As these China Hands are usually self employed and entrepreneurial by nature, they would not mix very well with the govt bureaucracy.  The old adage “it’s better to work with who you know than who you don’t” applies here.

China wins here in a big way.   This is where China can actually claim to “know the West”, better than “we know China”.   Again, to be a China expert within American govt actually precludes one from living in China(a semester abroad doesn’t count here, sorry), to further ones intangible knowledge of the subject matter.  A China expert in America today usually means one is an academic.    It’s tough to be a China expert if one is a diplomat, though one has lived in China, because being a diplomat means one cannot “have a life”.    No clubs.  No girlfriends.  No hanging out at the local pub.  Only a sterile, official life.

 Ironically, I actually think that once China realized it was dealing with someone familiar with its ways, that US-Sino relations would probably in the beginning deteriorate.   It would take awhile for them to adjust to the depth of knowledge represented by the other side.    Relations would actually get worse before they got better.   However, the immense advantage they bring to the table is their ability to work within the “gray area” of Chinese society.   This intangible isn’t appreciated today.  Their skills would bring great advantage to the USA.   Their ability to cooperate with the Chinese in their language and with their cultural knowledge of China would soon be greatly appreciated, and respected by the Chinese.   They would give China a lot of Face.   This would be inductive to better cooperation, and an ability to anticipate tension.  Better so than today, for sure.


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