On March 1, a memorandum of understanding was signed to boost collaboration on children’s cancer research between the US and Asia (especially China and Singapore) by six parties, namely VIVA Foundation for Children with Cancer (Singapore), VIVA China Children’s Cancer Foundation (Hong Kong), St Jude Children’s Research Hospital (US), the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center/National Children’s Medical Center (China), KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital (Singapore), and the National University Hospital (Singapore).

Under the MoU, experts from a world-leading children’s hospital, St Jude in Memphis, Tennessee, will share its cutting-edge knowledge and expertise with health-care professionals in China and Singapore on treating the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), so as to boost the cure rate. St Jude has achieved the world’s best survival rate for ALL of 94%, while the rate in Singapore is 88% and around 80% in China.

The collaboration was initiated and facilitated by the Singapore-based charity Viva Foundation, which was founded in 2006 by Jennifer Yeo, the wife of former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo. Mrs Yeo said: “We want to be the bridge between the hospitals, to spread knowledge, expertise and technology from the US to Singapore, China and the region.”

She is right. As a city-state, Singapore once again shows its sincerity and capability to be an “honest broker” among big powers. Previously, Singapore hosted two landmark talks between China and Taiwan, the Wang-Koo summit in 1993 and the Xi-Ma summit in 2015, and the most recent one was last June’s Trump-Kim summit between the US and North Korea.

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The MoU linking US and Chinese health-care institutions is a good and significant sign, especially during the current trade hostilities between those two countries. At least it shows the two big powers are still willing and able to cooperate to save lives. More important, it will sow the seeds of friendship for future generations. As children are the future, when those Chinese beneficiaries grow up, they will retain their gratitude to the US.

In the past, China and the US also forged deep friendship and cooperation, especially during World War II against Japan. In fact, “America” is pronounced “měi guó (美国)” in Chinese, meaning “beautiful country.” Nowadays, most Chinese people do not view the US as an enemy, but as an important partner and top competitor.

China views itself as “different, but not distant” from America, because the Confucian philosophy advocates “accommodating divergent views” (hé ér bù tóng, 和而不同). Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized that “the broad Pacific Ocean is vast enough to embrace both China and America,” and proposed a new model of international relations aiming at avoiding confrontation and conflict, respecting each other’s political systems and national interests, and pursuing win-win cooperation.

However, in the US, China is clearly considered a strong competitor and even a threat in almost all domains, covering economy, technology, military and culture. A recent poll shows that American people now consider China their third-greatest enemy, just after North Korea and Russia. They view China’s growing power as a “critical threat” to the “vital interest” of the US. China and Russia were identified as “strategic competitors” in the Donald Trump administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy. The two so-called “revisionist powers” are thought to be challenging the international order and posing a strategic threat to the US.

Therefore, some pessimists warn that more frictions between the US and China beyond trade are yet to come, and even that a “new cold war” between the two countries is brewing. There have been intensive debates whether the two big powers will be able to escape the “Thucydides trap,” wherein a rising power causes fear in an established power, which escalates toward war.

To be frank, it is difficult for the US and China to become real friends, because “persons who walk different paths cannot make plans together” (dào bù tóng bù xiāng wéi móu, 道不同不相为谋). The US is a missionary nation that wants to spread its democratic model to the whole world, but China insists on developing its “socialism with Chinese characteristics” in its own way. China’s development toward authoritarian politics goes against America’s core values such as individualism, equality and freedom. For most Americans, it is unacceptable to be overtaken by China, a non-democratic communist regime.

Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of modern China, foresaw quite wisely that “the China-US relationship can never be too good or too bad.” The US and China are inevitably set to compete or be rivals, but it would be unwise and even dangerous for the two countries to become enemies. The Chinese and American people have much more to gain by maintaining a friendly and cooperative partnership.

At present, the US and China are undoubtedly the most important global leaders. Without the cooperation of both nations, none of the big global and regional challenges, such as climate change, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation, will likely be fully addressed. The two big powers will have to cooperate again as they did in World War II to keep a peaceful and prosperous world together, sooner or later.