From November 15 to 20, ten Stanford students traveled to Beijing to help coordinate and participate in the “On Common Ground” conference organized by the student-run Forum for American/ Chinese Exchange at Stanford (FACES). The American and Chinese delegations were composed of 20 members each, bringing together students from top universities in both countries.
The highlight of the FACES conference was the widely publicized keynote address by the former Republican Governor of Utah and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. According to FACES organizer Rachel Lee, ’11, Huntsman stated that while competition will always be part of the U.S.-China relationship, there are many issues both countries can work on together.
Huntsman, Lee added, noted that when new diplomats started working at the embassy, they are often surprised to see that their perception of the People’s Republic of China being purely a competitor, as is commonly portrayed in the media, is inaccurate.
Patrick Qian, ’12, who also attended the conference, believes that people of each country having preconceived notions about the other is one of the biggest challenges in U.S.-China relations. “That’s why it is important,” Qian said, “for people from these two nations to cross borders and to see for themselves what the other side is really like.”
Meeting participants from the other nation is a crucial part of the FACES conference. The delegates had already met in April at Stanford for the first part of the conference, and now had a chance to re-connect with their friends in Beijing. For Lee, this was her favorite part of the event. “This week really cemented the friendships to the point where I would feel I would be welcome by any of them to visit their hometowns or go out for a meal. The China conference is about creating the relationships that will last beyond the conference, and provides a whole new network of friends around the world,” she concluded.
The FACES conference coincided with President Barack Obama’s visit to China. Qian thinks this was not done on purpose, even though the organizers invited Obama to be the keynote speaker. Obama’s visit was marked by the Chinese government’s refusal to nationally broadcast Obama’s town hall meeting with students in Shanghai, as had been the case with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Several American media outlets have declared this a sign of weakness on the part of Obama, though a few others have suggested that this was a sign of weakness by the Chinese government, which was too afraid to allow its people to watch the charismatic and popular American president
The conference drew attention from various major news agencies. The state-controlled China Daily mentioned Huntsman’s calls for more American-Chinese cooperation in dealing with world issues, such as climate change and the economic crisis. The New York Times, which also focused on the Huntsman keynote address, highlighted the ambassadors’ criticism of the U.S. media for being too negative in covering Obama’s trip to China.
While successful in bringing together students from both countries, Lee stated that reaching agreements was not a priority for conference participants. When describing the discussion participants had on the situation in Tibet, Lee stated that, “In the end it came down to a difference in beliefs about the role of government, but at least everyone understood each other’s perspective.”
FACES conferences have also been successful in the past. Past keynote speakers have included Stanford Professor and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former President George H.W. Bush, and former British Prime Minister John Major, as well as Stanford Professors Thomas Fingar, Siegfried Hecker and Scott Rozelle.
FACES is a grassroots network that aims to promote U.S.-China relations by bringing together future leader from the two countries to discuss topics that include economics, politics, security, and nuclear proliferation. The group was created in 2001 and is entirely student-run. It subsidizes its member’s trip with a completely self-funded yearly budget of about $90,000. The group hopes its efforts will help move U.S.-China relations in a positive direction.