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August 11, 2017

Responding To: A Reflection on the 2016-2017 U.S.-China Student Fellows Program

Reflections on Georgetown’s U.S.-China Student Fellows Program

Richard Chang

As I walked through the Eisenhower Executive Office building one day in October 2016, I could not help but gaze at the building’s exquisite moldings or look at the many signs that labeled the various offices and positions within the White House. Our visit to the White House that crisp fall morning included a meeting with the National Security Council (NSC) and was one of several memorable moments that I hope to discuss in this blog post concerning my participation in Georgetown’s U.S.-China Student Fellows Program.

Our conversation with the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the NSC that morning gave me a deeper glimpse into how the U.S.-China relationship is managed and how U.S. foreign policy is formulated. As I sat in the meeting, I was humbled to know that the very room I was sitting in was where perhaps countless key strategic foreign policy decisions were made. Indeed, these decisions can potentially impact thousands of lives all around the world.

Fast forward to a cloudy and hazy day in Beijing in May 2017, where we were set to meet with Chinese diplomats and officials at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) headquarters in Beijing’s Chaoyang district. As I walked through the main entrance of the building and into the atrium, I was marveled by the magnificent artwork that covered the entire lobby, the high ceilings, and the deep red carpet. I quickly thought in mind, “Wow, this is where Chinese officials receive foreign diplomats and officials for their key meetings.”

Our meeting with a variety of officials from China’s MFA was in a well-decorated room with a large rectangular table in the middle. As we sat in our seats, our hosts graciously served us tea. Our conversation with the Chinese diplomats began cordially, but we soon delved into a variety of hot-topic issues, such as how the United States and China should work together in addressing North Korea’s nuclear program. While it was soon apparent that both the U.S. and Chinese sides had many strong differences, it was also obvious that both sides shared a common interest in ensuring a stable and secure Asia-Pacific region. Our conversations helped reaffirm my initial belief concerning the importance of finding common ground in addressing both regional and global geopolitical issues.

Following our meeting at the MFA, we had the opportunity to debrief and reflect on what we just heard from the Chinese diplomats. In our debrief, we discussed what we thought about our meeting at the MFA, but we also soon dived into discussion on a variety of contentious issues, among which included human rights, academic freedom, censorship, and the potential democratization of China. While there were clear disagreements on a variety of ideological and policy perspectives among the fellows, I was glad that we were all able to share our diverse viewpoints freely. Furthermore, I also deeply appreciated that even though we had different values and beliefs, we all considered one another friends and colleagues.

As I reflect on these several meetings, I can confidently say that the Georgetown U.S.-China Student Fellows Program has been a formidable experience that has not only taught me the intricacies and complexities of foreign policymaking and diplomacy, but has also allowed me to meet a group of individuals whom I am have learned so much from and am humbled to call my friends and colleagues. I have realized that no matter how different our various ideological, political, or personal beliefs are, we can all find common ground in building deep and meaningful relationships and friendships with one another.

In addition, I am also very excited for the other fellows in the program as well as future fellows, and how they will shape and change the U.S.-China relationship and the world. Indeed, through this program may come future ambassadors, foreign ministers, senators, academics, diplomats, admirals, entrepreneurs, and social activists who each will have a unique contribution in shaping U.S.-China relations. Given that this is just the inaugural year of the program, I look forward to seeing the future impact of this program at both the policy and people-to-people level.

Moving forward, I am ever more inspired to continue to promote better mutual understanding between both the United States and China and to advocate for greater collaboration on key regional and global issues. Our current global order is at a turning point as the United States is no longer the sole superpower in the world. China’s economic rise and its increasing geopolitical influence in Asia and the world have significant implications for global governance norms and standards. In some respects, how both the United States and China interact and work together will decide the fate of many of the world’s largest challenges and problems. Thus, building on the lessons I have learned through this fellows program, I hope to continue to play a key role in facilitating this ever-important relationship—first as a student, then as a military officer and lawyer, and then hopefully as a policymaker.

Richard Chang is a senior at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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