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Responding To: Georgetown Students Share Thoughts on Exchange with Peking University
Last semester, a cohort of Georgetown students engaged with peers at Peking University (PKU) in China, discussing the broad topic of “global governance” from multiple perspectives. The issue provided the latitude for us to consider everything from supranational organizations to climate change, utilizing the frameworks of collective action and national interest.
During the sessions, lectures, and breakout rooms, I thought a lot about what motivated me to apply to join this dialogue. As a student who does not find much interest in theoretical international relations, I wasn’t the most interested in figuring out where our two country’s differences about global governance lie. Of course I care about understanding the politics behind U.S.–China foreign relations, but that is not what drove me to apply. Instead, I was focused on learning about the people, these PKU students, and what motivates them. I applied to the program, and have dedicated my undergraduate study to Chinese studies, because of the division between the U.S. and China that has been exacerbated in recent years, from President Trump’s vitriol towards China to the disturbing spike in anti-Asian violence in 2021. I believe these conflicts are fueled by a disconnect between American and Asian people. In particular, too many Americans have no interest in learning about Asia––be it the culture, history, or politics. This trend has concerned me because it runs counter to how I view Asia, given my experience studying Mandarin since I was eleven. The more I have learned, the more respect and love I have felt towards China and its people.
The opportunity to freely speak with the Chinese students in my breakout room was the exact experience I was looking for because I was able to see their outlook on the world. They approach the international stage, and the U.S. in particular, with respect, but also authority. Their ability to do both was powerful to witness. Even when asserting disparate beliefs, they always maintained care for the Georgetown students and our values. This skill may seem basic, but it is often lost in the United States, especially as our politics has become more divided and disagreement is personal. Knowing these students are the future leaders of China left me optimistic, and I can only hope they departed with a similar sentiment.
While we only met over Zoom, the conversation ignited real, palpable excitement. There weren’t any monumental decisions made, instead a few small groups learning and growing closer. But perhaps there lies the secret of successful diplomacy with China during our lifetimes: to lean in and seek clarity when faced with the unknown, as opposed to pushing away and finding comfort in destructive rhetoric. I am very thankful for this forum for discussion, and I hope to one day soon travel to Beijing to visit my peers and thank them for what I have learned.
Matthew Davis (C'22) is a senior at Georgetown University majoring in regional and comparative studies of Asia and double minoring in Chinese language and Jewish civilization.
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