Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
Key Differences in Understanding the Relationship
As someone pursuing a career in international education and exchange who has spent four years living in China, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues’ student-to-student dialogue. Coming into this experience, my main goal was to enhance my understanding of how China’s educated young people—its future leaders—are conceptualizing the contemporary relationship between the United States and China. Some of what I came away with is encouraging, but much of it is not. Though we all seemed to be on the same page when discussing the need for cooperation to confront global challenges such as climate change, there were many points of our discussion that exposed the fact that we were, at least to some degree, operating under different sets of facts.
When discussing bias in media, one Chinese student compared the political angles of China’s Xinhua News to those of CNN in the United States. While it is undeniable that CNN reporting has its biases, it is entirely different from a state-run news outlet such as Xinhua, whose reporters are effectively banned from criticizing the Chinese government. Another discouraging and personally disappointing element of these dialogues was the frequency of talking points that sounded as though they came straight out of CCP press releases. Our dialogues took place not long after the Chinese “Two Sessions,” during which Xi Jinping repeatedly lauded China’s success in eradicating poverty. In our dialogue with Fudan University, one student spent two minutes reading a prepared speech on China’s progress in eradicating poverty which sounded as though it came straight out of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This feeling that I was speaking directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was common throughout the dialogues. In fact, at one point following a lengthy and very party-line comment from a Chinese student, a Chinese professor praised the student by saying that they had a future in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On the other hand, I was encouraged by our shared concerns and ability to easily find common ground when discussing less divisive topics. Everyone agreed that our countries should look for ways to cooperate and should use cultural exchange as a tool to promote mutual understanding. We connected with each other on topics related to pop culture and youth issues. At least on the surface, we shared an understanding that we are all human before we are American or Chinese.
Overall, the dialogues reinforced a key difference between China and the United States: here in the United States, we welcome and often encourage criticism of our government and our history; in China, such open criticism is much less common and, as my experience in these dialogues revealed, not encouraged even in the country’s premier academic institutions. In my view, this reality indicates that China’s future leaders are conceptualizing the U.S.-China relationship in a way very similar to that of China’s current leaders.
Jessica Duhon (SFS'22) is a junior in the School of Foreign Service majoring in Regional Studies concentrating on Asia with a minor in Chinese.
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