If you want to understand why we’re not embarked on a “new Cold War” with Beijing, I suggest you watch a PBS documentary called “Beethoven in Beijing” — about the Philadelphia Orchestra’s unique relationship with China.
I suggest this not because of a vain hope that music can offset political strife. We are indeed headed into rocky, and risky, disputes with Beijing over Taiwan, the South China Sea, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and global leadership in cutting-edge technologies.
But a film about China’s passion for the German master — and for Philadelphia’s orchestral treasure — is a reminder that the U.S.-China relationship is far more complex than your father’s Cold War with Moscow. The U.S. and Soviet Union operated in two separate orbits. Americans had virtually no trade with the Soviets and very little human contact with Soviet Russians, except for arms control talks.
The relationship between America and China, on the other hand, is broad and deep with multiple layers, from massive trade links to decades of people-to-people exchanges, including many thousands of academics and scientists, sports teams, tourists and millions of students, along with many, many cultural organizations.
So the idea that the world’s two most powerful countries can simply “decouple” as their strategic competition grows fiercer — a concept promoted by China hawks — doesn’t match reality. In the case of classical music, as “Beethoven in Beijing” illustrates, the ties that bind our two countries are historically driven and deeply emotional. They will be tested, but hopefully, they will survive.