When Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the U.S. this week, he and U.S. President Barack Obama will likely want to communicate that U.S.-China engagement is working and remains to the clear benefit of each nation, despite tremendous and very real challenges.
A recent Pew Research poll found that 54 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of China and just 38 percent had a favorable view. Troubles remain in the relationship not just between China and the United States but also between China and key U.S. allies over territorial issues in the Pacific region, including Japan and the Philippines.
At home, Xi recently presided over a made-for-television military parade to commemorate 70 years since World War II with blue skies achieved, in part, by his ability to order the closure of factories and cars off the streets of Beijing. China has also intervened dramatically in its tumbling stock markets and surprised the world with the devaluation of its currency, the yuan. Such dramatic — and poorly communicated — policy actions and interventions also have contributed to growing wariness of China's rise and its impact.
Xi might well seek to emphasize the benefits of the U.S.-China business relationship and his vision of China as a responsible stakeholder in the world economy.
Economic issues remain very much at the forefront of Americans' concerns and will likely loom larger as the U.S. presidential election campaign intensifies. Business executive Donald Trump has tweeted, "Markets are crashing – all caused by poor planning and allowing China and Asia to dictate the agenda." Not to be outdone, former presidential candidate Governor Scott Walker said in August, "President Obama should focus on holding China accountable over its increasing attempts to undermine U.S. interests."
Americans are worried about the amount of U.S. debt held by Beijing, the U.S.-China trade deficit and the loss of American jobs to China. Roughly half or more of the American public says that all three of these economic issues are very serious problems.
The Pew data also show that Americans are worried about cyberattacks, human-rights abuses, China's impact on the environment and China's growing military strength.
Even the U.S. Federal Reserve is concerned about China. CNN tallied Fed Chair Janet Yellen's mentions of China (six times) and the word "global" (10 times) at her Thursday (Sept. 17) news conference when the Fed announced it would be leaving its benchmark interest rate at effectively 0 percent.
The United States, arguably, remains the dominant economic player in the global economy. China may well believe — and Americans may fear — that that dynamic is now changing. Yet, the growing sense of distrust between the United States and China need not taint every aspect of the bilateral relationship.
Addressing U.S.-China differences will require both nations to do not just more communicating, but also more listening to the concerns of the other side.
Commentary by Curtis S. Chin, a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank under both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He is currently managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group. Follow him on Twitter at @CurtisSChin.