Ari Filler | June 5, 2022
Differences in Diplomacy
One of the most compelling aspects of the dialogue for me was the chance to discuss topics in international affairs with same-age peers who share my interests and have a background in these subjects. Furthermore, as a Chinese American who has lived in China, I felt that I already shared a connection with the Fudan students and could engage with them personally. Though we covered many ideas across the sessions, our small group discussions centered on two main topics: approaches to economic development and the importance of soft power through people-to-people exchanges.
In our first discussion, we focused on the differences in approaches to development between the two countries, comparing the IMF and World Bank to Chinese-led development initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative. Just as Georgetown students had qualms about China’s development approach and global governance, our Fudan counterparts raised concerns about U.S.-led approaches. To them, institutions like the World Bank and IMF have needlessly high requirements for aid-seeking countries that prevent them from developing their economies. Fudan students expressed that in China, they tend to separate “hard” infrastructure from “soft” infrastructure like healthcare and social programs. Whereas Western institutions seek to develop both, China’s approach to development has focused on hard infrastructure projects.
When asked if they thought China might gradually include “soft” infrastructure like healthcare and environmental protection in their plans, a Fudan student expressed concerns over political differences and China’s efficacy. Discussing the example of local opposition in Pakistan to Chinese projects, she stated that it would be better perhaps for China to focus for now on hard infrastructure since its development initiatives are still in their early stages. It surprised me that several Fudan students viewed China as a developing country. Much of the popular rhetoric in the United States about China portrays it as the eminent global superpower.
Our second discussion centered around cultural diplomacy and the role of people-to-people exchanges in facilitating diplomacy. Concerning China’s image, both sides agreed that the government and Chinese institutions could do a better job at conveying China’s vision and goals. Another integral part of facilitating cooperation, we agreed, was direct contact between citizens of both countries. Bilateral communication, such as through the Student-to-Student Dialogue, serves as the basis for mutual understanding. On this note, a Fudan student lamented the closing of educational and exchange programs due to strained relations.
Though I expected both sides to be critical of each other, I was surprised by how many similarities we shared in our views. On the subject of applying IR theories to analyze relations between the countries and our respective domestic issues, we seemed to share many of the same concerns and viewpoints. Overall, I was impressed by the depth of our conversations and the ease with which both sides offered their views. I learned a great deal about China’s economic and cultural diplomacy and how nationality only partly informs one’s view of the world.
Jina Zhao (SFS’24) is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service studying culture and politics, economics, and film and media studies.
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