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December 19, 2022

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

Shared Aspirations for Future Cooperation: A Retrospective on the Georgetown-Beida Student-to-Student Dialogue

Will Foster

I would like to say right off the bat that I was impressed with how the U.S.-China Student-to-Student Dialogue has progressed. I had the privilege of being able to participate in the dialogue’s inaugural format in the spring of 2021, when group dynamics on Zoom were still challenging for all. The event this year went beyond the challenges of virtual technologies and felt like a true discussion focused on building mutual understanding between small groups of students. While the questions were a bit on the broad side, they certainly did a great job at encouraging wider discussions. The focus of this year’s dialogue centered around U.S.-China cooperation to promote global development. In order to facilitate this discussion, we first needed to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of existing global development programs such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI), and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We first discussed the weaknesses of the UN’s SDGs and how they were too vague and idealistic, not applicable to all nations, and did not take into account the role that private actors play in helping to alleviate or exacerbate the climate crisis. Above all, we found these SDGs to be a good idealistic framework to go off of but, due to their non-enforceability, they certainly should stay as aspirational.

In the six small group sessions that we completed over the course of three weeks, we found ourselves agreeing on a number of shared goals and aspirations for our two countries. We agreed that when it comes to infrastructure and investment projects, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on transparency and sustainability. Within sustainability, more emphasis should be placed on utilizing and developing the human capital present in developing countries.

To facilitate and achieve these goals in an increasingly politicized global climate, a number of ideas were floated throughout the different sessions. One major idea was using global institutions like the United Nations to promote transparent humanitarian aid and foreign investment to developing nations. Another idea was the launch of a friendly competition between the United States and China in which U.S. and Chinese researchers would be put into teams and compete against similar international teams on the development of cheaper green technology for use in developing nations. I am personally in favor of this latter idea as it helps to put a face to the “other side” so as to develop actual trust and understanding; evoking a friendly rivalry similar to the Ping-Pong Diplomacy policy of the 1970s.

Above all, I felt that this semester’s dialogue did a fantastic job at facilitating the exchange of ideas and worldviews from both sides. All of the conversations I had were civil, productive, and fruitful. I again recommend this program to anyone interested in U.S.-China relations.

Will Foster (SFS'23) is a senior at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, studying regional studies with a focus on Asia with a minor in Chinese.

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