Advait Arun | January 18, 2022
Understanding Nuances in Perspective
This year the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues Student-to-Student Dialogue broached subjects of sovereignty and cooperation in a global context from an extremely diverse array of viewpoints. I came into this year’s dialogue unsure if there would be any shared ground for discussion given the sensitivity of political topics in the Chinese context. Instead, I found that there was both significant overlap in student perspectives as well as a shared frame of reference, such as a common appreciation for Henry Kissinger’s On China. It was further interesting to talk about how international mechanisms for cooperation (i.e. WHO, WTO, UN) were viewed from a Chinese perspective in light of the fact that the students from Peking University appeared well versed in theories of international relations that I had first studied as a freshman at Georgetown.
Our discussion of global governance brought to light the important nuances that differentiate American and Chinese perspectives on international institutions and their efficacy, particularly in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Students at Peking University talked extensively about bilateralism and its importance in Chinese diplomacy, which they argued stemmed from China’s preference for dealing directly with state actors rather than international institutions. This led us to wonder how best cooperation could occur between the U.S. and China in the face of differing preferences for engagement.
I found this dialogue extremely insightful as a student of Chinese language and history — both of which were classes that I was enrolled in this semester — because of the significance of the Chinese terminology used in these discussions. A community of common destiny, or 共同命运, was introduced to us by Prof. Jia Qingguo and gave us valuable insights into the foundations of the PRC’s international framework. This spurred discussion of sovereignty in my small group discussion, which included a remarkably diverse group of students from Hong Kong, the Chinese Diaspora, and ASEAN member states in addition to students from the U.S. and Mainland China. It was incredibly engaging to ask students from PKU about how they conceived sovereignty in light of China’s disputed borders from the Aksai Chin near Kashmir to the Nine-Dash line in the South China Sea. I was really interested in bringing concepts of nationhood and national identity in a cultural sense into this discussion, particularly in light of China’s enormous diaspora. While we were not able to discuss Taiwan or Hong Kong, it was nevertheless interesting to hear what both Georgetown and PKU students thought about the diaspora as a way of further exploring the concept of sovereignty and state.
Our exchange allowed us to share the resources, ideas, and histories that shape American and Chinese considerations of international affairs. It made concrete the discussions that are happening in Chinese universities and among Chinese citizens, particularly through the terminology used to frame these discussions. I am excited to remain in touch with my PKU counterparts and learn more about China’s evolving international framework and the future for cooperation and understanding.
Daniel Wolfe (SFS'24) is a sophomore in the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service majoring in science, technology and international affairs with a concentration in Asian studies.
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