From October 17th-October 20th, CUSEF hosted the first-ever China Week, a four-day event that offered American graduate students that have a passion for U.S.-China relations the opportunity to take a virtual trip to China! Throughout the week, students heard from experts, professors, and some of the brightest minds at the forefront of the U.S.-China relationship.
Students joined from universities all across the U.S., including but not limited to Columbia University, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown University, Northwestern University, The University of Chicago, and New York University. The participants were all graduate students studying public affairs, public policy, international relations, and journalism. Keara Watkins from Clark Atlanta University described China Week as “a series of insightful and inspiring talks with some of the most esteemed professionals working in Chinese-American relations. In each session I attended I got to participate in Chinese culture in ways I hadn't yet experienced and received information about programs that I am now considering for my graduate studies!"
Each session included a brief introduction of the speaker, followed by a summary of the core topic, and a Q&A session which was the main focal point of each event. The main focus of the week was student-led discussions, and giving participants the opportunity to ask their most pressing questions to China experts across the political, economic, art, and environmental industries.
The first day of China Week kicked off with a talk led by Professor Shen Dingli from Fudan University who discussed “The Future of Sino - U.S. Relations in the Coming Year.” Professor Dingli opened with remarks about the current state of affairs between the U.S. and China, and the issues at the forefront of the relationship, such as trade, human rights, and Taiwan. The majority of the session, students participated in an active discussion with Professor Dingli about America’s attempts to decouple from China, as well as policies that concern the bilateral relationship, and the impact of America’s evolving perception of China. The first session concluded with a discussion about one of the most important mutual relationships the U.S. and China have with one another, the ASEAN nations in the Pacific.
The second session of day one featured David J. Firestein, President and CEO of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations.
The second talk of the day featured David J. Firestein, President and CEO of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations, who discussed “Great Power Politics in 2022: The Story of China, Russia, and the U.S.” Mr. Firestein explained that the U.S.-China relationship is characterized by a lot of distrust, with the fundamental disagreement being about Taiwan and the South China Sea. Mr. Firesein discussed President Biden’s current policies on China, which he observes do not stray too far from his presidential predecessor, as well as how a conflict between the U.S. and China is far more consequential on the world economy than the current conflict with Russia.
During the Q&A portion of the session, students asked about the consequences of the 20th Party National Congress and any potential existing areas of cooperation between the U.S. and China, such as climate change. Mr. Firestein informed the participants that he does not expect any major policy changes with Xi’s third term in office, and cooperation with China is possible, but it depends heavily on the U.S., who he says should focus less on slowing China down and more on speeding itself up.
Day two of China Week began with an information session about the current state of study abroad exchange between the U.S. and China by Jean Liu, executive vice-president and chief corporate affairs officer of EF China. The session was titled “The impact of the U.S.-China relations and/or the Covid-19 pandemic on the studying abroad preference of Chinese students,” and Ms. Liu had the opportunity to fill students in on the current allowances and restrictions of international student exchange between the two countries. These topics related closely for many participants, who had either studied abroad in China in the past, were currently doing so, or plan to in the future. Ms. Liu discussed the current options for China students who are faced with the decision to study in China or internationally, and what factors contribute to this decision. Students asked about the impact political relations have, as well as the current shift in work and hustle culture youth in both China and America are experiencing.
Ms. Liu remains optimistic about borders and student exchanges opening again soon, and is eager for students on both sides to experience the many benefits studying abroad offers. Participant David C. Fu from Columbia University shared this sentiment, stating that, “despite the headwinds, I am optimistic about the future of Sino-US relations seeing many enthusiasts in the same room. I think creating a space to encourage more bilateral dialogues is essential.”
The final session of day two featured two representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham), President Michael Hart and Allison Lapehn, Manager of Government Affairs and Policy, who discussed “American Business in China”. Mr. Hart and Ms. Lapehn began their session with a presentation on the mission and work of AmCham China and the current projects they are undertaking. They also provided students with a current snapshot of the state of U.S.-China business relations. During the Q&A session, students asked about the impact that U.S. decoupling from China is having on the world’s most important trade relationship. Mr. Hart gave his input on the recently implemented Chips and Science Act, as well as what the sheer size of China’s market means for U.S. businesses working with China.
For day three, students got to participate in a Chinese cultural and art immersion session on Chinese painting and calligraphy by Dr. Liu Kuo. Chinese calligraphy and painting represent the most important ancient art forms in China, dating back to the Han Dynasty in 206 BCE - 220 CE. Chinese calligraphy, called shufa, is intended to be just as beautiful in script as the words are meaningful. The participants first observed Dr. Liu Kuo paint several nature scenes using the traditional Chinese methods, while describing the history and intention behind the style, materials, and each stroke. After a quick lesson, students were able to try their hand at a traditional bamboo painting, guided by Dr. Liu Kuo. The interactive session was described as calming and peaceful for attendees, who not only got to learn a new skill, but had fun doing it!
Following the art lesson, Professor Jeffrey Lehman of NYU Shanghai joined China Week to answer the question: "In today’s geopolitical landscape, what are the areas of potential cooperation that China and U.S. governments can both work together on?" Professor Lehman began by explaining the difference between active cooperation in the U.S. and China, and what he calls “get out of the way” of one another. Some participation requires government to government cooperation, which can include creating common standards, and joint ventures to further understand the physical universe, such as space exploration. During the Q&A session, students asked about the media rhetoric about the U.S. and China being embroiled in a cold war, and how the U.S. and China can repair the soft power diplomacy that first established relations between the two countries in the 1970’s.
For the final day of China Week, students heard from Peggy Liu, Chairperson of Joint US-China Collaboration for Clean Energy, who discussed the factors behind China’s success in sustainability and greening efforts in the last several years. Ms. Liu discussed the importance of making actionable goals towards improving the environment, and straying away from political jargon that doesnt send a clear message to the everyday consumer. Ms. Liu’s advice for participants is to start from the future, and believe in the future to get people involved in your ideas to be what she calls “tornado leaders”. During the Q&A portion, students asked how every day consumers can compete against major corporations on the fight against climate change, the role of advertisers, and the origin of the China Dream.
China Week concluded with a student-to-student dialogue session, where participating students were joined by current students at Tsinghua University to discuss the similarities and differences of student life and campus culture in China compared to America. Participants broke off into three small groups to discuss their day-to-day experiences as a student in 2022, as well as their hopes, goals, and expectations upon graduation. Many students found common ground with their countries view towards work and “hustle culture”, with both Chinese and American students finding common ground on their fears for the future economy and job market. Students also discussed how their lives look different, from their campus's ongoing Covid-19 measures, to how the last few years has changed the direction of their future. Patrick Fitz from Columbia University said, “In these challenging times, dialogue is more important than ever, and the opportunity to speak with current students at Tsinghua University in Beijing not only connected me to my peers in China but served as a powerful reminder of the need for continued efforts to reach out and forge those person-to-person relationships."
As the week concluded, students said their goodbyes and expressed gratitude to the speakers and CUSEF staff for the execution of China Week. “As the Sino-US bilateralism seems to reach a new nadir with each passing week, academic exchanges between the next generations of leaders grow exponentially more important. CUSEF—even in its virtual form—serves as a medium for environmentalism, reconciling histories, and plotting a course for a more-peaceful future,” said Jared Bourgault, a student at Johns Hopkins University.