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April 26, 2017

Responding To: U.S.-China: Addressing and Building Strategic Trust

Enhancing the Media’s Role in the Age of Trust Deficit

Yuwen Long

When Trump calls CNN “Fake News,” it appears that he has a point. From Hong Kong’s election to China’s National People's Congress, the reports from CNN always somehow distort the truth about China. CNN is just one of those “mainstream media” who use colored glasses to watch everything happening in China. Those media outlets make the trust deficit between China and the United States even larger. To rebuild the trust, we need the media to tell the truth, let their voices be heard, and remove the misunderstanding between China and the United States.

Whether they admit it or not, media outlets shape our thinking. It is easy for the media to make people believe that China’s economic boom caused the unemployment of the American working class and come to a conclusion that China is a big threat to the United States. On the other side of the Pacific, the newspapers and magazines comment on how the United States maintains global hegemony and China is surrounded by U.S. military bases in Asia. And neighboring countries who have territorial disputes with China are the puppets of the United States. Although we live in a time of information explosion and internet connects everyone in the world, these biased reports from both countries distance the Chinese and American people from each other. What the current generation of Americans knows about China comes far more out of commerce than political or cultural communication. They only see all the products made in China, but they have little ideas about what China really looks like; what they mostly read is from the media who see China as an adversary. The media from both countries need to take their responsibilities as a mirror of society, not just propaganda. Restoring real images of China and the United States will address misunderstanding that originated from historical reasons and cultural differences.

What stands behind these fabricating reports are the different historical backgrounds and divergent ideology. China’s traditional system is a self-sufficient economy based on agriculture which lasted for more than two thousand years. At the end of the last century, China adopted the market economy, moving away from a central planned economy, but never got recognition it deserved from the Western countries. The United States is characterized as capitalism and free market. Politically, China transformed from feudalism to socialism after a long time of upheaval and tragedies in modern history. The United States has a democratic political system, and checks and balances have long been central components of it. Those economic and political preconditions lead to big cultural differences. Chinese admire humbleness, hierarchy, and collectivism. American appreciate volubility, independence, and individualism. Because of different understanding of culture and code of conduct, China and the United States have hardly succeeded in build long-term strategic trust.

Compared to the worldwide popularity of American culture, Chinese culture is still an unfamiliar culture to the rest of world. Young generations all over the world watch heroic figures in Hollywood movies, listen to the song of the year from the Grammy Awards in their iPads, but know little about Chinese culture. BBC has amazing documentaries, Netflix has mind-blowing TV series, and Chinese companies pay large amounts of money to buy their copyrights. Mainland China has become the second largest film market in the world, but Chinese movies do not really step out of the domestic market. China sells many products to the world except cultural products. The world needs to know China before labeling China. How do we to let people know this ancient country? The Chinese cultural industry will play a major role in introducing China to the world. China has changed a lot from economic revolution in last century. The image of China should also be transformed from cliché by the cultural industry, and the world media should provide the audiences with more choices and various opinions. Actually I believe that many around the world would like to know more about China or the China-U.S. relationship from different perspectives. But the public appetite cannot be satiated by current cultural industry. Taking an innovative step forward to tell good stories rather than despise others would be a significant step forward for the cultural industry.

From the South China Sea dispute to human rights, both China and the United States view such issues with differing assumptions and history backgrounds. In the globalized world, divergence will come to convergence, conflicts will turn to cooperation, and misunderstanding will transform to trust. From Brexit to Western politics’ rightward turn, the rising trend of xenophobia populism places hurdles in the way of globalization and global economic recovery. Amidst the chaos brought by weakening globalization, a new order has begun to take shape. China and the United States are the main power to direct the channels of globalization towards mutually understanding outlooks. This is the main trend despite ups and downs. In the age of the trust deficit, you may think it is the worst of times. On the other hand, it is the best of times to rebuild the trust of the media, revitalize the Chinese cultural industry, and promote mutual understanding between China and the United States.

Yuwen Long is a junior at Shandong University in China with double majors in law and English.

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