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  • From Mencius to Strategic and Economic Dialogue

    Posted on August 7th, 2009 Michele Sun No comments

    The U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) is a high-level dialogue for the United States and China to discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional and global political, strategic, security, and economic issues between both countries. The establishment of the S&ED was announced on April 1, 2009 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

    The upgraded mechanism replaced the former Senior Dialogue and Strategic Economic Dialogue started under the George W. Bush administration. High-level representatives of both countries and their delegations will meet annually at capitals alternating between the two countries. The first meeting was held in Washington, DC on July 27–28, 2009.

    During the two day’s meeting, I really admired those high ranking officials from both US and China, from their broadness of vision to the diplomacy. The entire world was watching closely including civilians like me. I barely  understood the thick presentations and reports presented by the analysts; however I did care about that event and its progress. After all, any actions, proceedings or agreements between US and China will have great impact worldwide.

    Besides following that event from a political and economical point of view, it’s also quite interesting to watch the attractive sidelights in or off the meetings. I was amazed to see US officials showing off their knowledge of Chinese idioms and ancient sayings, from President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the current Secretary of the Treasury Geithner.

    I found it especially impressing that President Obama had quoted Chinese sayings twice in his speech, once the Chinese NBA star Yao Ming (Houston Rockets) and once the great philosopher Men Tze. To be honest, it’s not too surprising to hear President Obama quoted Yao Ming, after all Obama is a huge basketball fan and Yao happened to be the most popular and famous Chinese in US.

    However, in President Obama’s remark he had referenced a teaching of Men Tze in Mencius “A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time, but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time.” That’s truly impressive and I also wondered why he had quoted Mencius instead of the more common known teachings of Confucius? Of course, I don’t imagine Obama knowing this ancient teaching himself; most likely his staff(s) knew about this and decided to include it into the speech. I wonder how his staffs came across this paragraph? Did he or she ever read Mencius? Perhaps he/she found this paragraph by index searching?

    As for Chinese representatives sitting in that meeting, how many recognized and remembered this was from Mencius? Almost every high school students in Taiwan must memorize every chapter and every sentence in Confucius and Mencius, including myself; unfortunately I have forgotten most of them and perhaps it’s a good time to refresh my memory.

    However, now I am really curious about which ancient Chinese teaching or saying they are going to quote next time? Are other nations’ politicians going to follow this trend? I am almost afraid of the answer.

    p.s. I am including the original phrases in Chinese here –

    「山徑之蹊間,介然用之而成路,為間不用,則茅塞之矣。」 《孟子》盡心下


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