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Georgetown and Peking University Students Explore the Future of Global Development

The Georgetown University Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues successfully conducted a new season of the U.S.-China Student-to-Student Dialogue on Zoom. Twelve Georgetown undergraduate and graduate students joined their peers from Peking University (PKU) over the course of three 90-minute online discussions in October and November 2022.

The dialogue sessions focused on the uncertain future of global development. Over the past several years, trade conflicts and slow growth have had an adverse effect on the global economy, disproportionately affecting the poorest countries. At the same time, geopolitical rivalries are on the rise, making effective cooperation around the global development agenda increasingly difficult. The participating students shared their thoughts on different development models and envisioned the prospects of international collaboration to help the world’s most vulnerable populations.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals and Poverty Alleviation

The participants started off their first session with a discussion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and later shifted to an evaluation of the strengths that the United States and China have in poverty alleviation. Although most participants agreed that the two great powers have gradually shifted their attention to domestic affairs, they identified the huge potential for cooperation on poverty alleviation, an issue hard to politicize or degrade into a zero-sum game. The students expected China to export its expertise on government-led development and infrastructure construction and the United States to activate its NGOs and non-profit sectors in a joint effort to alleviate poverty.

China’s Global Development Initiative and Clean Energy

In the second dialogue, students from both universities compared the Chinese Global Development Initiative and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They recognized similarities between the two programs but also discovered nuance by pointing out that China’s initiative may be overly optimistic and contains more broad claims than concrete steps towards implementation. The students noted that technological, educational, and entrepreneurial partnerships would serve to maintain the balance between development and the environment. They also reached the consensus that the United States and China should show stronger commitment to implementing the climate agreements, a way of displaying solidarity on the global stage.

The U.S. Approach to Global Development and Natural Disaster Responses

The last session started with an analysis of the nature of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Students from both countries perceived providing foreign aid as a responsibility and a burden at the same time. From there, students went on to discuss the ethical foundations of providing foreign aid, which they thought of as a strategy for expanding soft power. The students looked at the risks of securitizing development aid, using the example of disaster relief in the Indo-Pacific region. They also explored the possibility of truly unconditional aid and the implications of letting developing countries choose between assistance from China and the United States.

The Future of Global Development

The United States and China, being the two of the most powerful countries in the contemporary world, have significant responsibilities for global development, especially in an era defined by uncertainty. Students all expressed appreciation to the Georgetown University Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues for providing them with a valuable opportunity to conduct constructive conversations and promote mutual understanding.

The participants embody a younger generation with a grand vision of the two countries’ future. The discussion was “open, constructive, and respectful, even when [the two groups were] debating,” said Georgetown undergraduate student Miles McInerney (SFS’25). “Despite recent increased tensions between the United States and China, future leaders must work together to build understanding and relationships.”

Similarly, Tan Hong Kai from PKU stressed the urgency of understanding how global circumstances require China and the U.S. to deepen joint cooperation. “Youth are the future of this world,” he wrote, “and it is of utmost urgency for youths in both China and the United States to enhance mutual understanding.”

Through the U.S.-China Student-to-Student Dialogue organized by the U.S.-China initiative, insightful young people like them are able to engage in fruitful discussions, exchange perspectives, and build connections that they can carry on with them beyond this program.