SYNDICATED COLUMNIST TOM PLATE WRITES: Perhaps the so-called US “pivot” to Asia is an immense self-delusion; perhaps America is hopelessly glued to its 20th-century past – yes, the oft-labelled American century; and so perhaps this Western “world power” is in effect emotionally handicapped – unable to prioritise geographically and always needing to have it all: the global addiction.

Perhaps the so-called US “pivot” to Asia is an immense self-delusion; perhaps America is hopelessly glued to its 20th-century past – yes, the oft-labelled American century; and so perhaps this Western “world power” is in effect emotionally handicapped – unable to prioritise geographically and always needing to have it all: the global addiction.
It is in this way, here on the US West Coast – which is the east coast of the Pacific Rim, it should be noted – that we so often fret and tend to seek solace in the solitude of books that make us feel less provincial than the rest of America.

The China Choice: Why We Should Share Power is simply a great book.

If I had as much power in America as President Xi Jinping allegedly does in China, I would absolutely require people in the US to read it before being permitted to open their mouths and say anything one way or the other about the Sino-US relationship.

This book, by Professor Hugh White of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, was published last year but is now barely reaching this shore.

In it, White explains – cogently and reasonably – why America is heading for the proverbial brick wall if its China policy stays dumb and dumber: emphasising either stupid old self-defeating “containment” or, even dumber, “confrontation”.

But he is no anti-American, and quite properly insists that China itself needs to help the US reach new worldview maturities: “Only together can they make the mutual concessions needed to pull back toward cooperation,” White writes. “Both, therefore, share responsibility for disaster.”

He suggests (and I totally agree) that China will show the world its wisdom not by strongly pushing back against the United States at every opportunity but by boldly putting forth the largesse of enlightened accommodation and the historical long view.

A comparable sense of both hope and despair comes in former Harvard professor Henry Kissinger’s monumental World Order.

If you are pressed for time, read only the sections on Asia (the Europe and Middle East stuff is really old in almost every sense). They are pure gold.

From the professor with the gigantic ego and the gigantic flaws emanates a panoramic worldview: this is a man who has been there and done that – and who knows so much about China.

Read and think very carefully – disaster beckons from ignorance and arrogance, he warns. Americans and Chinese alike need to purge both from their national characters before it is too late.

Recently, the influential Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, wrote this about the West’s media: “The world’s biggest story is the rise of China. The world’s biggest media is the Western media. The world’s biggest mystery is how the world’s biggest media got the world’s biggest story wrong.”

So it’s quite interesting that two American journalists who notably and confidently have resisted cold-war thinking have had the immense (and necessary) advantage of spending a great deal of time in China.

New Yorker magazine staff writer Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China recently took home the 2014 US National Book Award for nonfiction, and it is easy to see why. Avoiding all theories and most platitudes, this talented author rewards you with a telling verbal landscape of today’s mainland as rich in pointed details as a colourful canvas by Georges Seurat.

Like Singapore journalist Peh Shing Huei, in his relentlessly well-reported book When the Party Ends, this respected American magazine writer believes a broadening of the cosmopolitanism of the Communist Party is now required if China is not to snap into decline due to institutional inflexibilities.

But is it really all that inflexible? I just don’t know. Take another look at a China book that deserves accolades: The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

The reason this cleanly written book stands out is not only that Doug Young’s tenure with the Western news agency Reuters afforded him years of reporting out of its Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei bureaus; but also that the author now teaches in the journalism department of Fudan University in Shanghai.

Isn’t it interesting that the “Princeton of China” should want on its faculty such a shrewd and critical observer of the Chinese media?

But I had thought that China was a completely closed society in which no self-criticism or self-doubt was to be allowed space to grow? Perhaps we had better rethink that cliché.

Or how about trying out a new cliché: One world order, two systems?

Journalist and professor Tom Plate’s recent book is In the Middle of China’s Future. He is author of the Giants of Asia series and the Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Dumb strategy of confrontation has no place in astute reading of Sino-US ties