A bipartisan group of six US senators, three Democrats and three Republicans, is visiting China in what some observers say is a sign of improving bilateral relations.
It may be too early to say the strained Sino-US relationship is improving. But if the ongoing visit proceeds well, perhaps with the delegates meeting senior Chinese leaders, it may pave the way for the much-needed improvement — ideally a widely expected meeting between Chinese and US leaders in San Francisco on the sidelines of the APEC meeting, to be held from Nov 12 to 18.
Led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the congressional delegation will visit multiple Chinese cities and meet with government and business leaders. No matter how the trip ends, it no doubt will "contribute to a more objective understanding of China in the US Congress", as the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week.
After all, seeing what is actually happening here with their own eyes, comparing notes face-to-face with real people running businesses, government institutions and the country may help the US senators better understand the country they have labeled their "No 1 rival".
US politicians may not entertain China's complaint that their policy choices vis-a-vis China are too often driven by misperceptions and distortions. The real China is different from what they frequently berate and act against on Capitol Hill. A short trip like this may not suffice to remove every misgiving, but it surely will be conducive to reducing, more or less, some of the misconceptions. Face-to-face communication is always better when it comes to mitigating misunderstanding.
Senator Schumer has said: "Members of Congress have their finger on the pulse of what the American people are feeling … I want to hear from the Chinese exactly what vexes them about the United States, just as I think they should hear what vexes us about China."
It always helps to hear from both sides. And the US lawmakers will gain important firsthand knowledge about what the Chinese people are feeling right now. This in itself could help make informed decisions about the two countries' relations in terms of lawmaking. For that reason alone, Senator Schumer was right to say the visit "is certainly worth trying".
This might not be the "propitious moment" Senator Schumer had described. But this certainly is a moment when people-to-people communication at all levels is badly needed for stabilizing the China-US relationship. Such communication is necessary not only for better mutual understanding, but more importantly for avoiding misjudgments and potential subsequent crises.
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