Sino-US friction the result of China rising too rapidly for comfort, ‘go-between’ says

Prominent diplomat’s daughter Shirley Young has spent years helping to counter prejudice against China in the US and is optimistic about the long-term outlook

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 July, 2016, 7:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 July, 2016, 10:45pm

It will take longer than the present generation to adjust to the rapid rise of China, according to a member of an eminent diplomatic family.

American-Chinese executive Shirley Young – daughter of consul general Clarence Young, who was slain in Manila during the second world war, and stepdaughter of Wellington Koo, China’s first diplomat to Washington after the 1911 revolution – said the change had come too fast for all parties, especially the United States.

“It took just 30 years for China to become the world’s second largest economy and the people who have gone through it are still around, so it’s difficult for that generation to accept a change of position,” she said.

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Young was in town last week to promote One Hundred and Nine Springs: My Story, the memoir of her 110-year-old mother, Juliana Young Koo.

She likens the change in China to “a little brother who suddenly became taller and stronger”, and the big brother of 30 was now a 60-year-old senior.

“The sudden changing position is uncomfortable, especially for those who remember how it was in the past. That’s Trump’s whole thing – that we were great before and we will be great again.

“That’s why you get a lot of friction because people can’t adjust to changes that happened, but ultimately leaders of both countries recognise the necessity of working together.”

Young, 81, who was born in Shanghai, recalled how she inadvertently became a go-between for China and the US in 1989.

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Shirley Young

“It was after Tiananmen that reporters in the United States began to go after American-Chinese for views on China. To present a collective voice, some 40 of us founded the Committee of 100, and I became the chair,” she said of the origin of the elite group of Chinese in the US, including architect I. M. Pei and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

“For the past 26 years, we’ve been a channel behind the scene to promote understanding between both countries, and, domestically we have helped Chinese in America against prejudice,” the incumbent chair of the US-China Cultural Institute said.

She was delighted to see many US schools were now teaching Chinese to young students, including her grandchildren.

“The new generation will learn about the Chinese not from history, but from fundamental culture, and this long-term endeavour, significant as it is, goes beyond the media, which is interested only in news of the day.”

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She is optimistic about long-term relations despite “noise in the system” in the run-up to the US presidential election, and rows over the South China Sea and Hong Kong.

Positive thinking was an ingredient for longevity, and her mother, who will turn 111 in September, had shown it.

“She handwrote in the memoir at age 109, ‘every day is a good day’, and that’s exemplary to all of us who want to live a long and happy life,” Young said.