Ajay Nathan | October 3, 2023
Understanding the Environment of International Development Between the United States and China
The U.S.-China Student-to-Student Dialogue was a deeply enriching experience that allowed me to gain greater perspective on issues regarding international development and the tensions between the United States and China. I went into the experience unsure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised with a discussion format conducive to a productive exchange of ideas. Each week, we were split up into groups of four and given 20 minutes to discuss a question. After those 20 minutes of discussion, each of the five groups would delegate a group member to share a summary of the conversation with the whole group, allowing for an opportunity to reflect and consider other perspectives provided during the discussion. As a result, for each issue we considered, we were provided both the opportunity to share our ideas, as well as the space to hear the wide array of opinions from others.
Our first discussion concerned the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I had some surface-level background knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals but reread the full report to refresh myself. During the conversation, there was a general consensus that the Sustainable Development Goals represented a strong starting point, but they largely fell short in providing mechanisms to achieve those goals because by definition, they provided a long list of goals and no mandates to meet them. One aspect I hadn’t considered was that the Sustainable Development Goals were meant to replace the Millennium Development Goals with a solution that brought the Global North and Global South together to solve global problems through cooperation. However, we found that there were certain ways these Sustainable Development Goals could succeed if supplemented by international commitments and proactive action on the part of individual countries.
Our second discussion concerned China’s Global Development Initiative and their effort at south-south cooperation in international development. Here the undertone of great power competition in international development began to show up, which made the dialogue ever more important in conversing over those aspects. We found that the specific issues that the Global Development Initiative targeted benefited from China’s work. Still, we spoke of concerns of this turning the field of international development into a playing field for great powers to quarrel, as well as the way in which Chinese values might be imposed upon developing countries in a harmful manner, such as through debt-trap diplomacy.
Our final discussion talked about the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). It was interesting to speak about this right after talking about China’s Global Development Initiative because it helped me understand the parallels between the two—that some of the downsides I saw in China’s Global Development Initiative might show up in USAID as well. We concluded our discussion by talking about how these countries ought to cooperate, which gave me insights and experience into thinking through the logistical details of such cooperation. We found forums for cooperation in smaller, less contested issues in international relations, such as natural disasters, where those would serve as a starting point to extend an olive branch between both countries.
All in all, this was an extremely informative experience to better understand the environment of international development between the United States and China. I got to hear other perspectives and dig deep into an issue I was not very familiar with through a learning process facilitated by the chance to consider ideas with students of completely different backgrounds.
Benjamin Manens (SFS'26) is studying in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.
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