Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
Moving Past Fear to Greater Understanding
As an international student from Hong Kong, I found the U.S.-China Student Dialogue to be an enlightening experience. Though I have both witnessed and studied the causes and impacts of U.S.-China tensions on my city, whilst being 8,000 miles from home, the Dialogue enabled me to put a face on topics often discussed in classrooms, but rarely with people from other sides. Through listening to the personal stories of students in Mainland China, the initiative gave me the opportunity to engage with political and economic issues from different perspectives. It has helped me understand the complexity and nuances of great power relations.
Although there were several challenges whilst communicating with students from Fudan, Peking and Zhejiang University, I learned a lot from the discussions. For example, in our first dialogue with Fudan University, there seemed to be significant disagreement among issues such as security, human rights and development. There seemed to be an expectation that each side had to represent their country’s interests and debate about the best way forward, and we tried to mitigate this problem by focusing on personal experiences rather than foreign policy debates. This led to an interesting discussion about the personal sources of fear that led to hostility between the United States and China; I gained valuable insight into public perceptions in China and what could be done to improve the relationship. Additionally, we managed to find some common ground when exploring U.S. foreign policy and domestic issues.
One of the most moving parts of the Dialogue was when a professor from Peking University shared his experiences in the United States and how his upbringing was influenced by American culture. He referenced his studies at Penn, drinking American beer, watching American TV shows, and how certain words such as “cool” in Mandarin only came into existence through China’s exposure to Western pop culture. He highlighted the importance of cultural exchange in fostering greater understanding. His sharing encouraged me to reflect on the personal and cultural elements of my experience in Hong Kong and Washington D.C. Indeed – there is common ground to be found; it is only whether we are willing to search for it.
This opportunity also opened my eyes to the importance of understanding each country’s history when approaching U.S.-China relations. One major source of fear comes from misconceptions of both sides when conducting foreign policy. On one hand, China’s economic and military expansion is seen as challenging America’s role in the region, though one may hesitate to draw such conclusions when factoring in the powerful role of China prior to the 19th century, and its debilitating economic problems during the 20th century. At the same time, America’s insistence on the U.S.-led rules-based order is seen as a threat to China’s growth, without considering the benefits that greater democracy and economic interdependence has brought to the world. I believe that sustained, personal engagement with people from different perspectives will allow such issues to be brought to light, paving the way for truthful and open dialogue from both sides.
Bakhita Fung (SFS'23) is a sophomore from Hong Kong at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service majoring in International Political Economy with a minor in International Development.
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