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February 17, 2022

Virtual Dialogue Deepens Mutual Understanding Between U.S. and Chinese Students

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and icy relations between the United States and China have severely limited travel and academic exchange. A once robust network of international cooperation has diminished to minimal contacts between the two sides.

Georgetown and Peking University Students
Georgetown and Peking University Students

In an attempt to continue interactions between the United States and China, the Georgetown University Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues organized a second virtual U.S.-China Student-to-Student Dialogue with Peking University in November 2021, building on successful dialogues held in spring 2021 with three leading Chinese universities: Peking University, Fudan University, and Zhejiang University.

Throughout November and early December of 2021, 12 graduate and undergraduate students from Georgetown met and engaged with counterparts from Peking University via Zoom to gain a deeper understanding of individual views around the themes of global governance and global citizenship, as well as to develop personal relationships that they can carry forward in their future careers.

Uncertain Expectations

Coming into the dialogue, the Georgetown students were unsure what to expect from their Peking University counterparts, considering how cold relations have been between U.S. and Chinese leaders in recent years. Both groups of students were pleasantly surprised with the other side’s willingness to have open and frank discussions. Georgetown graduate student Benjamin Sando (G’23) reflected,

“I was not locked in some fiery debate with ideologues from China. I was talking to individuals with the same beliefs as me. These students had spent time volunteering in the Global South, had been raised in middle-class homes like myself, and did not believe that the United States and China needed to grapple in some grand war over dominance.”

Challenging Assumptions

The dialogue started with a wider discussion of global governance and how the United States and China interact in the international system. In the final meeting, students focused on a narrower discussion of climate change, and the differences in approach between U.S. and Chinese citizens. Advait Arun (SFS’22) noticed,

“It was easy for my Georgetown group to prefer ambitious government-led policy change over our counterparts’ seemingly misguided focus on individual actions. But our counterparts’ knowledge of Chinese climate policy illuminates the simple fact that China already has a green industrial policy; for all intents and purposes, the United States still has none.”

Forming Bonds

The students did not agree on everything they discussed, including sensitive subjects like human rights, economic competition, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite differences in approach, the students were able to create deep bonds, listen to each other, and find understanding and common ground.

“The dialogue provided us with the perfect venue to calm down and listen to what our counterparts have in mind, reflect on our own conceptions, and formulate new ones while making great friends. My favorite memory of the dialogue was when we shared what life was like at Georgetown and Peking University and made promises to visit each other when the pandemic ends,” said Yichu Huang (SFS’23).

Although their time together was short, the bonds they formed will last into their future after graduation. The Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue is committed to providing more opportunities for student dialogue to engage students from both countries, promote exchange of ideas, and forge better understanding.

Read additional reflections about the student-to-student dialogue from the Georgetown student participants on the initiative’s blog.