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January 17, 2022

Responding To: Georgetown Students Share Thoughts on Exchange with Peking University

The Power of Trust and Good Intentions in U.S.-China Dialogues

Judy Jiang

In this year’s U.S.-China student dialogue, every participant exhibited respect, knowledge, and kindness, interacting with good intentions. The format has encouraged us to keep an open heart and an open mind, where everyone in my small group shared insights generously and honestly, as well as listening to each other attentively. The clear and comprehensive presentations by PKU professors also established the theoretical basis for further discussion about global governance and international development. The final session was the most productive, focusing on climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. I learned about specific actions that the U.S. and China took regarding these shared challenges, at both the government and corporate levels. We also examined the viability for one country to learn from the other based on the corresponding political, economic, and cultural contexts. There was a lot of new information that everyone learned from each other, but such productive exchange proved something more important: the similarity of our training, and the willingness of both sides to solve the problem beyond ideological debates.

To reflect on this experience critically, I recognized two potential limitations. First, the conversation started smoothly where all of us agreed with each other likely because our international relations education was similar. Our introductory courses might be similar in content; thus, when the conversation started at the broad, theoretical levels, there was not much to be disputed. However, such consensus did not mean progress but rather a circumvention of concrete or possibly controversial issues, which could have yielded more meaningful discussions. Fortunately, we were able to narrow down to the specific issues of climate change and COVID-19 in the final session. I only noticed in hindsight that no one thought of attributing the blame as a key component, which was usually the source of contentions. The moral was that it takes time and steps for people to establish trust and be comfortable to focus exclusively on finding solutions. Nevertheless, I understood that these issues might be easier to think collaboratively than other issues, such as national security, and I am curious to see that, given the good rapport we have established from the first two sessions, what the dialogue might look like if we were to touch on some of the U.S.-China stalemates.

Second, the global experience and mindset that bonded all participants could have also limited the scope of our discussion. All the PKU participants have some levels of experience abroad, either through traveling, an immersive education, or growing up. This diverse personal experience also applies to Georgetown participants, including several non-U.S. citizens that are international students in America like myself. These backgrounds established our shared interest in U.S.-China relations and the common desire to participate in a cooperative dialogue like this initiative. Being students of higher-education institutes like Georgetown and PKU also indicated that we are the privileged minority that might not represent national sentiments. This limitation reminded me of the importance to communicate beyond our familiar spheres, while also exemplifying the critical role of “good intentions” in cross-cultural exchanges.

The situation today is no longer the Nixon era’s “open China to the world and open the world to China,” where the U.S. used to play a critical role in coordinating U.S.-China relations. This dialogue has revealed to all participants that, in many areas where cooperation is preferred, it is important to recognize China as an innovator and a partner for domestic and global progress. I was inspired to see in my peers from both Georgetown and PKU a growing awareness for and sense of responsibility in a rules-based international order.

Judy Jiang (SFS'23) is a junior in the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service majoring international political economy with a double minor in theology and religious studies and international business diplomacy.

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