On Thanksgiving

Nov 24, 2023

For me, Thanksgiving is always a time of appreciation—not just for family and food but also for the deeper issues afflicting all of us.  With the world in turmoil, that latter point is an especially tough task today. But a few minutes ago, the first tranche of hostages was released by Hamas and Israel. That single development, in conjunction with a pause in military activities in Gaza, is something we can all be very thankful for.

From my perch as an active participant in the US-China debate, there are mixed sentiments on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I am certainly grateful that the US and Chinese presidents met in San Francisco last week. Superpower conflict is not something to take likely, especially with wars raging in Ukraine and Gaza. Global stewardship has been in short supply for all too long. Yet thanks to the deliberate preparation of both sides, the Biden-Xi summit produced progress on military communications, fentanyl, and a presummit agreement on climate talks. Yes, plenty of big issues remain unresolved—especially on trade, economics, and tech—but I was always taught to be thankful for little things.

In that spirit of gratitude, I head back to China next week—my third visit this year and the second trip in six weeks. I continue to be struck by the strident anti-China rhetoric in the United States and a comparable undercurrent of unease in China. As I attempted to argue in Accidental Conflict, I believe that much of the conflict escalation over the past five and a half years is premised on the false narratives that both nations have embraced toward the other. With the confluence of these false narratives the functional equivalent of the high-octane fuel of conflict escalation, the potential sparks of accidental conflict need to be taken very seriously.

The corollary of my argument is that this conflict would not have gotten to such a dangerous point were it not for the misimpressions, the misunderstandings, that the body politics of both nations have embraced. The three-day “Understanding China” conference that I will be participating in next week in Guangzhou couldn’t come at a better time. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this event once again. And I am thankful to all of you, dear readers, for continuing to follow and offer feedback to these dispatches from around the world. Happy Thanksgiving.

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