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December 19, 2022

Responding To: Georgetown Students Share Thoughts on Student Dialogue Experience with Peking University

Regional Dialogue as a Catalyst for a Co-existence in Sustainable Development Goals

Hanh Duong

Inflation and higher fuel prices resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and instability pose unprecedented challenges to many countries to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a comprehensive framework initiated by the United Nations (UN) to cope with a complex and multifaceted development process. The United States and China, as the two global leaders, play a vital role in promoting and supporting other countries to achieve the SDGs. They seem to share the same vision in tackling the world’s development issues and face similar difficulties when approaching SDGs, yet different implementations and political disparity hinder the possibility of cooperation between these rivals. However, the coexistence of the United States and China to achieve inspiring SDGs is still an open door to explore with a catalyst of regional organizations.

Both countries comply with the status quo in which they work hard to be an essential element in the achievement of SDGs. China’s Global Development Initiative development and the U.S.’s USAID vision are compliant with the SDGs. For example, the two countries' view on poverty alleviation is also aligned with each other as a global economic issue and as a goal for supporting economic growth. With the Asia-Pacific region specifically, comparing China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its leadership in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific Strategy and U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (CP-TPP), there are overlapping points in the goals for obtaining sustainable development and supporting terms to developing countries.

Furthermore, both countries also encounter similar challenges in solving development issues. The conflict of interest among different stakeholders constrains efforts to implement SDGs in the countries and the support for other developing nations. In SDG Goal 7 on “Affordable and clean energy,” though acknowledging clean energy transition can benefit society in the long term, it might put a risk to fossil fuel firms’ benefits. Moreover, with emerging markets, the total transition to clean energy can be an impossible mission given the reliance on coal in industrial activities. Those arise as a significant governance weakness of both countries, particularly for the complex issues under the SDGs where responsibility is scattered and the hostility of stakeholder interests increases.

Despite the same visions and challenges that can create room for the “co-leading” mode of two global leaders, differences in political agendas, economic models, and domestic tools led to two fragmented and separated approaches of two countries in achieving development goals. Going back to the poverty alleviation example, while the United States tends to focus on a free market, finance, and education and largely implements its projects via public-private partnerships and multilateral organizations, China prefers a government-oriented and cultural understanding approach to the SDGs. In addition to the diverse and unique approach of each country, as political agenda is still a priority of both countries, it led to a gloomy landscape for the cooperation of these two great powers.

Realizing challenges yet prospects for the coexistence of the United States and China, a third-party such as a regional organization can best position itself as a platform to redirect the two countries’ competition as a catalyst to generate a chemical test in reconciling the two countries’ interests and put them together to discuss the world’s development issues. The recent ASEAN summit is an example in which the U.S. president met Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time after entering the office. Although there were some fragmentation and drawbacks in the meeting’s result stemming from the rivalry of the great powers, the summit made a milestone in organizing a direct communication channel for them to properly shift the competition to an appropriate manner and put them into the same pace of tackling international concerns and uphold the development of ASEAN. The summit was a chance to look at how significant growing interdependence is among countries. Therefore, one must be mindful that the narrative of competition may hinder the exchange of ideas and innovations that are helpful to achieve development goals.

Hanh Duong (MSFS'24) is a graduate student in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, concentrating on International Development.

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