This week’s U.S.-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE) was a clear signal from leaders of both countries that they are taking the steps necessary to strengthen our relationship. The event was also the product of great effort by many people in the State Department. As an intern this fall in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, I prepared planning documents and helped to iron out some of the small but important logistical details -- like how long, exactly, it takes to walk from one entrance of the building to the coat check area.
For policymakers, it’s hard not to focus on the urgent issues of the day at the expense of the long-term, harder-to-measure projects such as CPE. In the Asia-Pacific region, there is no shortage of urgent issues -- the North Korean nuclear threat and the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, to name just a couple.
Focusing on today’s headline stories is essential, of course. In the long run, though, I believe efforts like the CPE to build people-to-people relations across the Pacific will have the longest-lasting positive effects. The exchanges promoted by the CPE resonate with me personally because I have benefited from an exchange program myself. Living in South Korea gave me a much better understanding of the country and the region and sparked my current graduate studies of the Korean language and East Asian international relations.
It was inspiring to witness the CPE unfold and to see the outcome of all the preparations begun months in advance. Yesterday, U.S. and Chinese senior officials announced programs to increase exchanges of young leaders, students, and professionals and to encourage enhanced cooperation through the arts, science, sports, and women’s programs.
The CPE discussions about increasing U.S.-China university cooperation and boosting the number of Fulbright participants also seemed particulartly important to me. I know many Americans who have studied or worked in China and Chinese people who have studied or worked in the United States. It is clear that their experiences have led to a deeper mutual respect that is rewarding both to the participants and to their home countries. We need more of this respect if our countries are going to effectively work together to address common challenges.
Some analysts conclude that confrontation between the United States and China is inevitable.
I don’t believe that to be true. I have seen how direct exchanges can change perceptions and attitudes, and I believe that increasing cooperation between the U.S. and China can change the course of our future relationship. Confrontation is not inevitable, misunderstanding is not automatic, and our relationship is not a zero-sum contest to be won or lost.
I am proud to say that I helped in some meaningful ways to make CPE happen, and I know that this event will have a positive effect on the broader country-to-country relationship for years to come.
About the Author: Kyle Johnson serves in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs' Office of Public Diplomacy.