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U.S. and China: Worlds apart but much in common

By Stan Grant, CNN
November 8, 2012 -- Updated 0031 GMT (0831 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In space of one week, world's two great powers decide their immediate futures
  • Beijing has cautioned U.S. politicians to treat China with respect
  • U.S. has pivoted to Asia away from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Away from heat of politics and trade, ordinary people are building bridges

Tune in to "The Future of China" at 0900 HKT, 2000 ET, 0100 GMT on CNN.

Beijing (CNN) -- So, America has decided. President Barack Obama has been returned for another term. Now it is China's turn. In the space of one week the world's two great powers decide their immediate futures.

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It's not all they have in common. America and China are joined at the wallet. China makes mass cost-effective products, United States consumers buy them. The U.S. is China's single biggest trade partner, China is the biggest holder of American debt.

Yet so much attention is given to what divides the two powers. In the U.S presidential election both candidates tried to "out-tough" each other on China. There were the now mandatory claims of China stealing American jobs, not playing fair, manipulating its currency to gain an export advantage.

Beijing has cautioned U.S. politicians to treat China with respect. It talks about win-win, the need for cooperation.

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President Obama made it clear during the campaign that China can be either a partner or an adversary. He's backing his words with firepower.

The U.S. has pivoted to Asia away from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is consolidating key alliances in Southeast Asia, carrying out military exercises with Japan and South Korea. American troops are now in place on Australian soil.

Some analysts interpret this as an attempt to contain China's rise. China is rattling other nations in Asia with its military build-up and tense territorial disputes. Violent protests have erupted across China as people denounce the likes of Japan and the Philippines.

More: Opinion: West should prepare for confusing new Chinese leader

But away from the heat of politics and trade, ordinary people are building bridges. Chinese students are flocking to American colleges, U.S. businesses are capitalizing on China's inexpensive labor, and young Americans can be found throughout Chinese cities.

Jonathon Levine left his home in New York when he found himself unemployed. Armed with a masters degree he found a job teaching U.S. Studies at Beijing's Tsinghua University. He says "China bashing" isn't the answer, the world, he says, needs to get over its fear.

"It's not like going to the moon like it might have been 100 years ago because communication links us much closer together," Levine said.

China is not the moon, but it is world's away from the U.S. in so many ways. Where America prides itself on its democracy, the Chinese Communist Party keeps a tight grip on power. The U.S is the home of laissez-faire capitalism, China remains a command economy. Human rights continues to be a thorny issue, and where the U.S pursues intervention in foreign affairs, China prefers a hands-off approach.

More: China's Communist Party Congress explained

U.S Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, says China's relationship with the U.S. is the defining one of this century. President Obama has four more years; Xi Jinping is expected to be anointed China's leader for the next decade -- two men a world apart with a world depending on them.

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