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Forum explores role of people-to-people diplomacy in promoting Sino-US relations

RESEARCHERS and officials exchanged their views on the role of people-to-people diplomacy in promoting Sino-American relations at a recent forum in Shanghai.

The forum, “People-to-People Diplomacy and Sino-American Relations,” was hosted on July 21 by Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, and Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

In his keynote speech, Yang Jiemian, chairman of the Council of Academic Affairs at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, first drew attention to the necessity of “correctly and accurately defining minjian waijiao, or people-to-people diplomacy.”

“Now some Chinese people have a tendency to generalize and like to label many different things ‘diplomacy’,” Yang said.

He explained that as diplomacy is properly an activity at state level, only those activities that closely relate to state sovereignty and take on the significance of activities and purposes at state level can be termed people-to-people diplomacy.

There is also the need to pay attention to the overlappings and distinction between people-to-people diplomacy and local diplomacy, and that between scholarly exchange and people-to-people diplomacy.

Yang added that once we are clear about the definition of people-to-people diplomacy, there is the need of a top-down approach in constructing this diplomacy with a view of cooperating better with governmental diplomacy, as “People diplomacy naturaly extends, and supplements, state diplomacy.” From another perspective, governmental diplomacy can deepen into people-to-people diplomacy.

Yang said that Shanghai has played a pitvotal role in promoting Sino-American relations. While Shanghai has been unique and effective in envisioning its own people-to-people diplomacy, it is also meeting with more and more challenges in this aspect.

Yang identifies four areas in need of more effort.

First, Shanghai should cherish its historical legacy in Sino-American diplomacy.

Second, Shanghai should realize that without hardwork, the former advanges it once enjoyed might evaporize. “For a long time after 1949 and 1979, Shanghai had been irreplaceable in terms of peope-to-people Sino-US diplomacy. This has seen fundamental changes,” Young observed.

Third, Shanghai should be proactive in its work on people-to-people Sino-American diplomacy. Rather than rely on on its past glories, it should aspire to new heights.

Fourth, continuing effort should be made in optimizing the system and mechanism of people-to-people diplomacy in Shanghai, with a view of preventing it from being aristocratized, bureaucratized, or becoming too entertainment-oriented. Under the coordination of Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, there is the need to fully leverage the initiatives of non-governmental entities and individuals, the role of economic and cultural exchanges and social media in sharpening Shanghai’s edge in people-to-people Sino-American diplomacy.

Chen Dongxiao, president of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies pointed out, of all kinds of exchanges, including people-to-people exchanges, to what extent they would have a bearing on future Sino-American relations, it is still subject to individual observation. One opinion believes that structural issues in the relationship is more important while people-to-people relations are insignificant. Some even suggest that intimate interactions, by bringing the formerly vaguely held views into greater focus, would undermine the formerly romanticized sense of beauty.

Whatever views, in the globalized era, with the deepening of Sino-American relations, people-to-people exchanges would play an ever bigger role, especially here in Shanghai, which used to play a pivotal role in Sino-American relations. Shanghai would continue to play a leading role in furthering such relations.

Jing Ying, vice chairman of Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, observed that over the years, people-to-people friendship or diplomacy has been furthered with a view of deepening relations between China and the rest of the world. Shanghai Foreign Affairs Office, in close cooperation with a number of relevant organizations, through in-depth studies and interviews, has unveiled a number of people-people exchange stories that are typical of the times.

This forum helped summarize the work done so far, and what more can be expected of future effort in this area.

As China and the United States have become two of the most influential countries in the world, they are not only two of the largest economies, but enjoy considerable leverage in shaping global economic development, industrial and energy structure.

Although the two countries are different in development and culture, in the era of globalization, they confront some common problems as well as problems unique to them, whose solution would hinge on greater mutual understanding, mutual support and effective cooperation between them.

The truly fundamental good relations between the two countries would ultimately translate into amity and good-will between their people.

It has been calculated that on average 14,000 people travel between China and the United States on a daily basis.

And there is no denying the pivotal role of the people in furthering such relations, whether in economy, cultural, tourism, or education.

As people-to-people Sino-American exchange expands and deepens, the relation has gone beyond mere economics and politics at state-level to include social and cultural ties.

Yu Lizhong, Chancellor of New York University (NYU)Shanghai, cited the importance of youth in fostering Sino-American understanding.

“The future of the world belongs to the youth, thus people diplomacy or exchange should pay attention to the youth,” Yu observed.

Yu observed that American students’ knowledge of China prior to their arrival in China is generally quite limited, and heavily influenced by their media. Hence the importance of helping these young people correctly understand China. These students will grow up and then propagate their perception of China.

At present half of NYU Shanghai students are international, of whom 60 percent are from the United States. Thus the school is of special importance in terms of exchanges among Chinese and American students.

According to Yu, in achieving cross-cultural understanding, the right approach is to understand differences while seeking common ground.

“The youth’s world outlook should be constructed on the basis of comparison and reflection, rather than through inculcation,” Yu said. Importantly, the students should also have a high sense of social responsibility.

Guo Shuyong, head of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Shanghai International Studies University, said cultural exchange is the means, or even higher form of, people-to-people diplomacy.

Specifically, this kind of cultural exchange refers to Sino-Foreign exchanges in the field of education, science, culture, sports, and youth, as facilitated by non-government entities.

We are promoting a new round of open-up, as suggested by the Belt and Road Initiative and the deepening reform, and this means the exchange based on economy would deepen into exchange extending to myriads social aspects, signifying the shift from hard to soft power, or from open-up in material goods to exchange in more humane aspects. Thus Sino-foreign exchange in culture has been historically invested with a new diplomatic significance, supplementing diplomacy at governmental or party levels.

This exchange would help lay a firm popular opinion ambience for debunking China threat or China collapse rhetoric.

As a matter of fact, only through promoting exchange in this aspect ­— whether they refer to people-to-people diplomacy or exchange in cultures — can we galvanize new reform initiatives.



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