Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
A Need for More Personal Interactions
While participating in the U.S.-China Student Dialogue, the need for unhindered and constructive communication between China and the United States–and not just through official governmental channels–became exceptionally clear for me. During our first session with Fudan University on global health and climate change, the discussion suffered to some extent from a certain degree of formality pursued by both sides. On the one hand, I enjoyed this experience as it felt similar to the official diplomatic dialogues I hope to be involved with in a potential future diplomatic career. However, this led us toward points of tension that could not be resolved through prepared remarks in front of a large group. For instance, a number of Chinese students criticized claims made on our side suggesting a poor initial response by the Chinese government regarding the spread of COVID-19, but we lacked time to engage more deeply on this issue and gain further understanding of our counterparts’ perspectives. As someone who has thoroughly studied China during four years of undergraduate courses, I felt that much of what was said by the students at Fudan–both in substance and in style–simply mimicked official government talking points rather than reflected personal beliefs.
Recognizing a need for more personal interactions to fulfill the original motivation behind the dialogues, my peers made the wise decision to form smaller breakout rooms where topics of greater individual interest could be pursued. This enabled discussion of ideas much more relevant for a dialogue among undergraduate students, such as the issue of where students on both sides got information about the other country and the biases of such sources during the session with Peking University on cultural exchange and development. This illuminated a diversity of opinion and experience among the Chinese students that was not readily obvious, as a number watched a good deal of Chinese state media, but some made the effort to seek out Western news sources as well. One of the more noteworthy moments in my smaller discussion groups came during the dialogue on trade and technology with Zhejiang University. When about their opinion on a national security law that would allow the Chinese government to gain access to any firm’s private servers, one student on the Chinese side expressed a great deal of concern for the potential privacy issues surrounding the legislation. This point led into broader discussion on the American side of the issues of digital privacy in the U.S., signaling an area where official policies may differ, but the attitudes of individual people may be more similar than expected. Ultimately, I believe it is the people of both nations who grant legitimacy to their respective foreign policies, and so finding ways to align both peoples’ interests as was achieved through these dialogues will go a long way toward fostering a stable and productive bilateral relationship. I also feel it is therefore exceedingly important to be apprehensive of any policies attempting to limit knowledge sharing between the U.S. and China–especially academic exchanges–as this simply begs for heightened conflict and weakens the potential for tangible progress through cooperation.
Eamon Tuttle (SFS'21) is a senior in the School of Foreign Service, majoring in International Political Economy, minoring in Chinese, and pursuing a certificate in Asian Studies.
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