Lessons Trump should learn from China

I was delighted to read Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi's letter (US must up the ante in R&D, tech and compete with China; April 13) because it made the essential point - that United States President Donald Trump does not understand what makes America great, namely its openness to people and ideas, and its generosity.

By blaming China, Mexico and a host of other nations for America's job losses, the Trump administration is sending the message that a nation's prosperity can be achieved only by going back to a golden age and building walls to keep people from elsewhere out.

Unfortunately for Mr Trump, this is not true.

Ironically, the country that learnt this lesson the hard way is China.

In the past, the Chinese refused to trade with the outside world, and kept foreigners out.

Innovation was not encouraged because China considered itself the centre of the world.

The country received a rude shock when it was humiliated in the Opium Wars of the 19th century by a much smaller country.

While the Chinese economy today is by no means the world's most open, the lessons of history have not been lost on Chinese leaders.

They understand that isolation does not work, and while the early stages of China's development was built on heavy industries, the Chinese are now trying to movetowards high-level technology.

The richest men in China include people like Mr Jack Ma and Mr Ma Huateng, whose companies Alibaba and Tencent, respectively, are coming up with innovative technologies.

You could say China is looking to places like Silicon Valley for inspiration.

So, the question is this: Why is the Trump administration trying to fight a trade war to restore smokestack industries in steel and coal production instead of moving into high-level technology too?

Instead of trying to restore the past, the administration should be encouraging people to take charge of their future.

This is something the Chinese are trying to do.

Tang Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2018, with the headline 'Lessons Trump should learn from China'. Print Edition | Subscribe