About the Authors: Caroline Guenther, Tony Nguyen, Reagan Thompson, and Thao-Anh Tran are interns in Office of Chinese & Mongolian Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Being at the banquet of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) next to, respectively, the former head of the World Bank for China, the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army, and the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was an opportunity we never imagined our internships would provide.
The S&ED was the Obama Administration’s inaugural round of talks with the Chinese government. The Dialogue provided an opportunity for high-level U.S. and Chinese officials to speak frankly on topics ranging from a denuclearized North Korea, climate change, and health care. For example, when Zhang Guobao, director of the Chinese National Energy Administration, presented his opinions on climate change and the current global situation, he spoke very candidly. He stated that he was not a diplomat and said he disagreed with several U.S. stances on climate change. It was so surprising for us to witness such open discussions, but we began to understand that sincerity and honesty are essential if the United States and China are going to work together.
When we all first arrived on the China Desk, we imagined ourselves drafting memos, requesting clearances, and occasionally attending meetings. Yet, as we got closer to the S&ED, we found ourselves totally engaged in the coordination and execution of the event. From preparing briefing books for Secretary Clinton, to seeing President Obama in person, to note-taking at the joint press conference, we were entrusted with responsibilities that interns could only dream of receiving. Despite the fact that we found ourselves working as late as 1:00 a.m., pizza dinners promoted camaraderie among the office staff.
We feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in such a high-profile event. We were even able to meet the two most senior Chinese officials at the Dialogue, State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan. We talked with Dai and Wang in Mandarin and conveyed our sincerity in wanting to learn more about China. To top it all off, Secretary Clinton personally thanked the S&ED team!
As students of international relations, the events of the past few days were a rewarding way for us to see textbook theories in action. It became clear that although the United States and China may have differences, we agree on a multitude of issues and we are optimistic about the future of bilateral relations with China. We witnessed what good can come of hard work, creativity, and a never-ceasing desire to represent the United States well. Our experiences speak to the care of the “China Desk” at the State Department, the dedication of the State S&ED Coordinator, Erica Thomas, and the unlimited opportunities offered by the institution that is the Department of State.