Ari Filler | June 5, 2022
Overcoming a Deficit in Understanding
The U.S.-China Student Dialogue with Fudan University illuminated several underlying challenges but also numerous promising aspects of the Sino-American relationship. While some members of the group displayed pessimism regarding the current geopolitical circumstances, others argued that the United States and China are firmly positioned to act together despite their obvious philosophical and political differences.
The biggest lesson that I took away from our three meetings together was the consistently clear messaging from our Fudan colleagues that fruitful cooperation in global governance depends on the understanding of each other’s history, philosophy, language, economy, security, and red lines. This seems like a much simpler solution than what reality demands. In particular, our Chinese colleagues repeatedly mentioned the view that China has only recently become an important international player, and that its ascent to global dominance has only come thanks to its decades of observing and learning from other countries, most notably the United States.
For this reason, the Fudan side argued that China understands the United States far more than the United States understands China, and it is precisely this cultural, political, and philosophical deficit on the American side which limits the development of a closer relationship between China and the United States. Essentially, the United States needs to invest in a generation of bright new talent that will be able to bridge this gap in the American understanding of China. If this were to become a reality, then the solutions that currently seem impossible to reach, will become far more accessible to future policy makers and diplomats.
In my group that discussed the role of the United States and China in global governance, we came to a conclusion on several important matters. In our first session, all members of the group agreed that cooperation on peacemaking and humanitarian issues were vitally important. However, referring previously to the philosophical differences underpinning each country’s vision of foreign relations and diplomacy, the United States and China have very different peacemaking strategies.
Regarding this roadblock, it is essential to keep in mind that the United States and China have distinct peacekeeping models that stem from their respective value systems and histories. For instance, the United States is more in favor of intervening directly in a country’s internal affairs to maintain peacekeeping and prevent atrocities, motivated by the concern to safeguard human rights. China, on the other hand, disagrees with this viewpoint, and instead contends that to achieve real peace, an intermediary must not pick sides, but act as a neutral observer that attempts to understand the concerns of both sides. The frank misunderstanding of each country’s position leads to an endless tale of accusations and mutual suspicion that does not help to advance the cause for a deeper and stronger relationship between our two countries. For example, the United States may regard China’s unwillingness to interfere as immoral, while China views the United States with suspicion as it is overly interfering, and may represent a possible model with which the United States may attempt to intervene in what Beijing deems to be national affairs, particularly with the issue of Taiwan.
The above peacemaking discussion is only an example of the larger problem that our group believes defines the most important challenges currently facing the United States and China. A possible solution would be greater investment that fosters and builds a new generation of young people who will travel to China, learn Chinese, study the intricacies of Chinese politics, economics, law, and society, and who will be able to bring this knowledge back to the United States to inform our policy making and diplomacy vis-a-vis China.
Nicolas Gardner (SFS’23) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University pursuing a degree in international politics and Mandarin Chinese.
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