Skip to main content

U.S. and China: Worlds apart but much in common

By Stan Grant, CNN
updated 7:31 PM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In space of one week, world's two great powers decide their immediate futures
  • Beijing has cautioned U.S. politicians to treat China with respect
  • U.S. has pivoted to Asia away from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Away from heat of politics and trade, ordinary people are building bridges

Tune in to "The Future of China" at 0900 HKT, 2000 ET, 0100 GMT on CNN.

Beijing (CNN) -- So, America has decided. President Barack Obama has been returned for another term. Now it is China's turn. In the space of one week the world's two great powers decide their immediate futures.

More: China's secretive process

It's not all they have in common. America and China are joined at the wallet. China makes mass cost-effective products, United States consumers buy them. The U.S. is China's single biggest trade partner, China is the biggest holder of American debt.

Yet so much attention is given to what divides the two powers. In the U.S presidential election both candidates tried to "out-tough" each other on China. There were the now mandatory claims of China stealing American jobs, not playing fair, manipulating its currency to gain an export advantage.

Beijing has cautioned U.S. politicians to treat China with respect. It talks about win-win, the need for cooperation.

More: 3 challenges for China's next leaders

Inside China's Communist Party Congress
Presidential candidates on China
Mao's shadow over China
What in the world: Change in China

President Obama made it clear during the campaign that China can be either a partner or an adversary. He's backing his words with firepower.

The U.S. has pivoted to Asia away from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is consolidating key alliances in Southeast Asia, carrying out military exercises with Japan and South Korea. American troops are now in place on Australian soil.

Some analysts interpret this as an attempt to contain China's rise. China is rattling other nations in Asia with its military build-up and tense territorial disputes. Violent protests have erupted across China as people denounce the likes of Japan and the Philippines.

More: Opinion: West should prepare for confusing new Chinese leader

But away from the heat of politics and trade, ordinary people are building bridges. Chinese students are flocking to American colleges, U.S. businesses are capitalizing on China's inexpensive labor, and young Americans can be found throughout Chinese cities.

Jonathon Levine left his home in New York when he found himself unemployed. Armed with a masters degree he found a job teaching U.S. Studies at Beijing's Tsinghua University. He says "China bashing" isn't the answer, the world, he says, needs to get over its fear.

"It's not like going to the moon like it might have been 100 years ago because communication links us much closer together," Levine said.

China is not the moon, but it is world's away from the U.S. in so many ways. Where America prides itself on its democracy, the Chinese Communist Party keeps a tight grip on power. The U.S is the home of laissez-faire capitalism, China remains a command economy. Human rights continues to be a thorny issue, and where the U.S pursues intervention in foreign affairs, China prefers a hands-off approach.

More: China's Communist Party Congress explained

U.S Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, says China's relationship with the U.S. is the defining one of this century. President Obama has four more years; Xi Jinping is expected to be anointed China's leader for the next decade -- two men a world apart with a world depending on them.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT