Bringing Feelings Front and Center: My Reflections on the Student-to-Student Dialogues
Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
The advocacy of an alternative model of global governance by Xi Jinping, senior CCP officials, and academics has become increasingly prominent in the post-pandemic world. This boldening rhetoric was echoed by our Chinese counterparts throughout the Student-to-Student Dialogue. At the same time, our conversations and Chinese scholarship also reveal a deep understanding of China’s limitations and the need for U.S.-China cooperation, as well as a desire to work through international institutions. In short, this is a largely ideological battle, and there are no real surprises in Chinese strategy.
China’s narrative of mutual respect, fairness and justice, cooperation, and a win-win situation in global governance serves a double purpose: matching its emphasis on historical woes and pushing back against U.S. leadership and the current rules-based order. Previously vague buzzwords such as “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics” and “community with shared future for mankind” have been clarified by recent analyses. In the name of building a more democratic world order, China wants to push reform of the international economic order through developing countries and reform of decision-making mechanisms in international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or World Bank. It sees itself as subverting a hierarchy in which objectives and implementation are unilaterally determined by developed countries, particularly in the areas of international security, monetary system, shipping system, and civil aviation.
More significantly, the reasoning behind such concepts is further supported by the interactions during the Dialogue. First, China believes that international mechanisms such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization are Western dominant in design, thus reflecting Western values and interests. Second, institutional rules that were established during early post-WWII international political and economic development are seen as ineffective in countering increasing challenges brought by economic globalization and the diversification of international actors. As such, China reserves many ideological and historical differences, as seen through points made by Chinese students throughout, and will continue to push implicitly for their vision. Nevertheless, it seeks common ground and wants to cooperate in functional areas such as climate change— a core point of agreement in the Dialogue.
With that in mind, the right strategic direction for U.S. foreign policy, rather than engaging in verbal sparring and attempted decoupling, should be tackling the core assumptions that the Chinese alternative of global governance makes. Their reasoning makes altruistic claims about a more balanced world and rests on the presupposition that international politics, security, and economic systems solely safeguard U.S. interests. In response, the U.S. should continue to support, be actively involved in, and defer to international institutions. Perhaps the most exciting outcome of the Dialogue was the expressed curiosity and common ground between both sides. In truth, the human context and motivations that guided both perspectives in the discussion during the Dialogue are not too different. Likewise, I have renewed hope for a future in which the U.S. can engage in healthy cooperation and competition with China.
Crystal Sung (SFS'23) is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service majoring in International Politics with a concentration in Foreign Policy & Policy Processes.
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