Ari Filler | June 5, 2022
Adjusting the Vantage Point
Given the critical juncture of U.S.-China relations we currently find ourselves in, being a part of the student dialogue was an eye-opening and introspective experience. Though I grew up in Shanghai, my academic experiences in international schools meant that my understanding of China is rather one-sided and limited, consistently from mostly Western perspectives and lacking those from Chinese peers in similar fields. This dialogue was an opportunity to extend my curiosity and seek ways forward beyond the tense diplomatic relationship. Seeing common ground between my Georgetown and Fudan peers was a breath of fresh air as it contrasted the heated debates portrayed by media narratives. Through the program, our exchanges helped shape what I think is the fundamental issue in U.S.-China relations, and I hope to continue to further the dialogue beyond my time at Georgetown.
Global governance is a central theme where both the United States and China have undeniably significant influence. Evident from the current Russia-Ukraine crisis, no singular player can be spared from the ordeal of global governance. When we were examining the current global landscape and the effectiveness (and the lack thereof) of multilateral institutions, we asked our peers if they believe that the United Nations is a trustworthy institution, a question to which they rebutted by asking if the United States is a trustworthy country. It is without doubt that the United States has made its fair share of policy mistakes as a leader in the past, but if we do not have good faith or trust in the other side willing to commit to solving global problems – be it climate change, peacekeeping, or human rights – it becomes challenging to balance self-interest with common welfare. Even though global governance has historically proven to be powerful, our dialogue illustrates the current dilemma, where our peers perceive the United States as unwilling to commit based on previous actions such as its withdrawal from the WHO.
Over the course of the dialogue, I noticed that the American students spoke from universal values and models while our Chinese counterparts recognized them as they see fit for their own and critiqued the West and multilateral organizations for imposing models on countries who would have been better off left untouched. The implicit “us versus them” mentality that is evident in this dialogue reflects the larger dynamics at play. The harsh reality is that the global imperatives we agree upon are interpreted, conducted, and communicated differently by each actor. What economic development and peacekeeping means for America is not how it is defined by China. This is why, despite the rosy goals that the United States and China allegedly share on paper, the two carry out models distinctly based on their own political, economic, cultural, and social norms that are historically ingrained in their national identities.
The only way to come out of our current gridlock is to encourage scholars and policymakers to study China. Without proper and local understanding, it is impossible to see from the Chinese perspective and effectively manage the divide. Similar to the dialogue, it is important for the United States and China to have open and frank discussions on the principles that affect adversarial relationships. Both sides can rebuild trust through fruitful cooperation and mutual recognition of the scope of what one can do. It is only when we see through the other’s eyes that we can effectively push forward. When we adjust our vantage points, we move one step closer for a better bilateral relationship and as such, a more peaceful world.
Helen Zhang (MSB’22) is a senior in the McDonough School of Business, studying international political economy and business and art history.
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