Ajay Nathan | October 3, 2023
Observing U.S.-China Relations Through a Vietnamese Lens
In March and April 2023, I had the honor of participating in three dialogues between Georgetown University and Peking University students on the topic of U.S.-China bilateral relations. Our Zoom discussions focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). During these dialogues, I availed myself of the opportunity to engage with peers from the United States and China on their perspectives. As a Vietnamese student, I joined the dialogues from a different perspective. My country has participated in and contributed to global initiatives carried out by both China and the United States, namely through foreign direct investment and diplomacy. Though there were differences in our views on a diverse range of issues, we all agreed that both great powers should cooperate and share resources in order to more effectively tackle global issues.
In our conversations, we observed to a great extent the deterioration in U.S.-China relations since the post-COVID-19 era and in the wake of the recent trade and technology wars between the two countries. There is brewing mistrust between both governments, who suspect malicious intent in the actions of each other. The degree to which this mistrust has compounded has led to the use of vile rhetoric by leaders on both sides, vis-à-vis China’s Wolf Warrior diplomacy and anti-China attitudes in the United States government. Thus, we recognized the urgency to reignite engagement and dialogues, fighting against trends of antagonism. We were also conscious of our positions as future citizens and potential leaders in business and politics; thus, it is important to take the initiative towards dialogue. Even if we do not become leaders, dialogues remain essential to halting animosity between the two countries.
Participants in our dialogue come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, each bringing a different perspective to the conversation. We had students, academics, those who worked in the civil sector, and those who had experience with policymaking. These perspectives painted an interdisciplinary picture of how to approach international development, SDGs, clean energy, and disaster management from theoretical and pragmatic angles, with considerations of how these policies can impact people on the ground. These were valuable conversations that I would not have had outside of the program. On issues such as poverty reduction and alleviation of consequences caused by natural disasters, conversations were more active and spirited, with all members having witnessed the United States’ and China’s own approaches and its impacts, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programs, and USAID’s activities in the developing world. Pakistan and Haiti were two countries discussed as part of the conversation on disaster management, with participants having participated as volunteers in donation drives or charities.
Overall, the U.S.-China Student-to-Student Dialogue was an incredible experience, witnessing projects carried out by global powers from diverse vantage points of policymakers, students, and academics from both the United States and China.
Dung Tran (SFS'26) is studying in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.
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