China was the North Korea of the last century.

The U.S. had no relationship and virtually no contact with the nation since Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct 1, 1949. China was cut off to much of the world until Ping-Pong Diplomacy creates an opening in the early ’70s.

During those years China struggled to regains its equilibrium after vanquishing Japanese invaders (with the assistance of the Flying Tigers and the Hump missions from the Burma), suffering the indignities of Mao error — atrocities like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Deng Xiaoping, the bold leader following Mao, kicked down the doors of isolation and opened China to the world. China has since taken off like a rocket.

With a series of political and economic ideological shifts that deftly navigated China politics that did not outright reject “Mao Thought” or Marxism-Leninism Deng adapted them to modernize China. As Deng opened China to the world, he focused on political and economic pragmatism.

I first traveled to China in 1989 and spent three nights with the students as they called for greater freedom, and end to corruption and for “democracy.” While democracy has not and is unlikely to emerge the change for the better in China is enviable and palpable.

What has transpired in China since these early days is nothing short of phenomenal. I recall my mom imploring me to eat my peas, children are starving in China (and they were) — to today where China is eating our lunch.

From no private ownership of cars before the ’90s to the largest auto market in the world, bullit trains, modern airports and an e-commerce and technology systems that is ubiquitous and makes us look like we are stuck in the Stone Age.

In the nearly 30 years I have been traveling to China there is no question that the lives of the average Chinese citizens have improved remarkably.

I just returned from a three week trip to China. I offer a clarion call for us to wake up to a nation on the move. There is an urgent need for more and more of our citizens to grasp the enormity of China’s rise.

Napoleon is quoted as saying, “Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Today China is wide awake. We need to be doing more to open the eyes of adults and children to the threats and opportunities that China presents. We can and must continue to strive to build cultural, educational and economic bridges with China.

Clearly there are issues our national leaders need to be on alert and working with their counterparts in China to address, such as: free and fair trade, currency manipulation, cyberspying, theft of intellectual property, climate change, maintaining free navigation in the vital sea lanes, human rights, North Korea and Iran, to name a few.

President Trump will make his first visit to China this week and North Korea and fair trade will top the agenda. The relationship between our two countries is the most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

Going forward, all major issues will intersect at the corner of Washington, D.C., and Beijing. How this relationship is managed will impact not only the people of our respective nations — but all of humanity.

Yet, on the subnational level our energy should be on connections that add mutual benefit to parties on both sides of the ocean that produce win-win results.

Governor Snyder deserves credit for forging a thoughtful China policy that is important his replacement must build upon.

Between January 2010 and July 2017, Michigan received $1.1 billion in new business investment from China that created 5,475 jobs for Michigan residents — an ROI (return on investment) that has created numerous benefits for the people of the Great Lake State.

The China wave will continue to pound our shores. Smart leaders and individuals will find ways to prepare to assure China’s rise does not come at our demise. What is your China plan?

Tom Watkins is a business and educational consultant in the U.S. and China.

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