FACES 2019 Telesummit Report: Pressing Trade Tensions, A Joint US-China Dialogue

Even before his presidential election in 2016, President Trump has criticized China for its unfair trade practices. His calls for protective measures against Chinese imports were finally put into action in July 2018 in the form of tariffs, kicking off the current US-China trade war as we know it, with the Chinese government responding in turn with tariffs on US products.

In light of trade tensions between the US and China, the 2019 FACES Stanford-Peking University Telesummit was organized with the aim of exploring the far-reaching political and economic consequences of the escalating trade war between the United States and China. Through the use of video conference technology, we connected professors and students from Stanford and Peking University to spark meaningful dialogue between stakeholders on both sides of the table.

We wondered: What is the long-term economic impact of the trade war on China, the United States, and other countries? Do mutually beneficial solutions to resolve trade tensions exist? If the U.S.-China trade war persists, who will ultimately prevail and who will surrender? In this trade war, is there even a clear winner to begin with; that is, will both countries inevitably “lose” in certain ways? How will the trade war affect the future of U.S.-China relations?

On the Stanford side, we were joined by Nicholas Hope from the Stanford Center for International Development and Thomas Fingar from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, who provided a brief timeline on the economic reasons for the trade war, citing promise fatigue and the trade imbalance. While they conceded both countries would suffer from the trade war, with lower and middle classes impacted the most, they argued that businesses internationally had long been negatively impacted by lack of regulation when trading with China, and that the trade war was inevitable.

Meanwhile, on the Peking University side, we were joined by professors Wang Yong and Wang Dong, both professors in the school of international studies who believed the trade war took on a much more political nature for China. They cited news in anti-China rhetoric that have been gaining traction, such as when President Trump’s top trade advisor Peter Navarro stated that trade with China was a “zero-sum game” with only one winner. They argued that the prevalence of such rhetoric mobilized support for a trade war, spurring Trump to make the decision to tariff; and, that by making plans to compromise later in trade meetings, President Trump would put himself in a better light for re-election in 2020.

After the professors provided a knowledge base, the floor opened up so that students and faculty could ask each other questions. Students at Stanford were curious about how the trade war impacted the day-to-day life of Chinese citizens and students, learning that the trade war may have an impact on access to US websites and media in China. Meanwhile, Chinese students were concerned about the consequences for student and work visas when applying to universities in the United States.

It was clear from the discussion that the trade war was a far more complicated topic than could be addressed within two hours. However, the telesummit provided a starting point to draw new connections and spark further discussion. From a distance of over 5,000 miles, students and faculty were able to discuss the ramifications of the trade war with each other. Participants came to the conclusion that businesses in the US and China would both benefit most from a stable relationship between the US and China, and thus the trade war would likely be short-lived. Generally, we left optimistic that a solution would be reached.

As a freshman student in the audience of my first-ever telesummit, it was eye-opening to see how technology could be used to connect perspectives from over 5,000 miles away. I left with a deeper understanding of how complicated trade relations could be, as well as an eagerness to participate in more discussions. As an organizer of the event, I learned a lot about communicating with professors, developing a topic of discussion, and other behind-the-scenes efforts. Many thanks to fellow 2019 FACES telesummit team members for all their work to put together such a valuable event: Yanqiu Wang, James Noh, and VP of telesummit Cami Katz.

If you’re interested in more opportunities for cross-cultural communication and learning, look out for the next Telesummit and more FACES events in the spring! We’ll explore additional topics in US-China relations, including law cases, technology, and censorship.

Author: Vivian Auduong ‘22, Operations Team (auduong@stanford.edu)