Amid a period of uncertainty in the U.S.-China relationship, professor of political science Francis Fukuyama urged student participants at the Forum for American/Chinese Exchange at Stanford (FACES) to take a more nuanced, historical view of bilateral relations.
“I think there are misperceptions on both sides,” Fukuyama said.
The conference was founded to build common ground and reduce misunderstandings by bringing university students from the U.S. and China together. This year, 40 selected student delegates — 20 from Chinese universities, 20 from the U.S. — gathered to discuss U.S.-China issues from foreign policy to cultural differences.
Lectures such as Fukuyama’s make up a major part of the conference, for they seek to deepen participants’ engagement with the complex political and historical issues at play within the U.S.-China relationship.
Fukuyama, who directs Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), tied his views on China today to its political history. He argued that the lack of checks and balances in China today resulted because it never developed a rule of law that restricted the behaviors of its rulers as citizens in their own right, despite the early rise of centralized government in China.
Although Fukuyama warned that a “dangerous collision” in foreign policy might result from excessive nationalism, he said that platforms like FACES have the potential to change perceptions and build useful relationships bit by bit.
“In this exchange, people make friendship and learn from other perspectives, and when they enter into position of responsibility, they may remember people they met in the forum,” Fukuyama said.
The conference activities sought to create opportunities to shed light on issues from multiple points of view. Philip An, a delegate from the California Institute of Technology, was particularly struck by a translation exercise of Chinese newspapers, which drove home for him the two countries’ divergent views on the South China Sea.
An said, “One [article] was like, ‘Oh China is so aggressive, they’re against democracy, they want to take over sovereign nations,’ stuff like that. But the China one was defending [itself], so it offered a completely different perspective.”
An lived in Inner Mongolia and South Africa before moving to the U.S., and is one of many delegates who bring diverse international experiences to the table. Other delegates include students from Oxford University and international students from universities all over the United States.
To FACES co-president James Garth ’17, giving delegates the chance to build relationships with people from all over the world was the most important goal of the conference.
“I think the biggest thing is the relationship,” said Garth. “We have 40 people who have a huge interest in this, leadership and ideas of things they want to achieve, so we build them into contact with others who feel similarly deeply engage with each other.”
And according to An, the conference did exactly that.
“I didn’t know anyone when I came in here,” An said. “We went from [being] 40 strangers to going salsa dancing together, and last night we watched the presidential debate, talked about politics and stayed up really late. ”
Contact Celia Chen at xinuo ‘at’ stanford.edu.