Maritime disputes related to the South China Sea could have a major impact on peace and security in the Asia Pacific region as well as on the United States. Without meaningful dialogue between the U.S and China, a widening perception gap over the conflict is likely to further destabilize relations between the two superpowers. These issues are complicated further by the political and diplomatic transitioning underway in the U.S.
Professor Zheng Wang, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University's School of Diplomacy and International Relations, has initiated a new endeavor of global negotiation and conflict resolution to bring together both parties. The project is being supported through a generous $250,000 award to Seton Hall University from the Henry Luce Foundation to enhance dialogue around the South China Sea conflict. The goals of the project are to help American and Chinese scholarly and policy communities understand each other's perspectives on the South China Sea, and to bring potential consequences of conflict into sharper focus.
An active scholar in China foreign policy, East Asian nationalism and identity politics, Wang is an influential commentator on global policy issues. He is a Carnegie Fellow at New America, a Global Fellow at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR). He has briefed the State Department and members of Congress on foreign policy matters pertaining to China, and recently accompanied a congressional delegation to Japan and South Korea. He has also been featured in the New York Times, the Financial Times¸ NPR and a recent documentary on the South China Sea disputes on PBS, among others.
Wang is collaborating with Zhu Feng, executive director of the China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea, based at Nanjing University in China. The project is built around the method of interactive conflict resolution, or ICR, in which thought leaders representing both countries will participate in a series of carefully planned and facilitated dialogue sessions that aim to increase communication, develop mutual understanding and produce positive policy outcomes.
Following the announcement of the grant, Andrea Bartoli, dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, said, "We are pleased to be working with the Henry Luce Foundation on this innovative project, particularly at such a critical moment in U.S./China relations. By leading this initiative, the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies is contributing to work that can have a positive impact on peacebuilding, which benefits us all."
Helena Kolenda, who directs the Luce Foundation's Asia Program, notes, "The Henry Luce Foundation's Asia Program pursues two interrelated goals, one is fostering cultural and intellectual exchange between the United States and the countries of East and Southeast Asia, and the second is creating scholarly and public resources for improved understanding of Asia in the United States. Within our grantmaking, we support research and dialogue efforts with policy relevance. Seton Hall's project is in line with these aims and is timely given current tensions in the region surrounding the South China Sea."
Wang said, "Constructive contact between the U.S. and Chinese policy communities can prevent misinterpretation and misjudgment and is the first step toward developing viable policy options." He sees the project as an opportunity to reinvigorate bilateral dialogue and establish a "new voice at a critical time in our history." Ultimately, he shares that, the work could bring about a transformation of perceptions and attitudes that result in concrete proposals for conflict management and the peaceful resolution of the China Sea conflict.
Wang received start-up funding from the Luce Foundation to
support the first phase of his work facilitating communication on the
South China Sea conflict. That project began with a one-day conference
in December 2016, at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
at John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. Participants included
directors, deans, and presidents of China's four top think tanks and a
bipartisan U.S. delegation of policy experts from the Center of New
American Security, The Heritage Foundation and the Center for Naval
The most recent grant will enable the continuation of that dialogue at a three-day ICR conference in China in Fall 2017, hosted by Nanjing University. Zheng hopes to engage new members in the facilitated conference and several smaller workshops, which will bring together scholars and military officers from China, as well as new appointees who are advising the Trump administration on foreign policy. The group will continue the dialogue in December 2018. The approach being taken in terms of the group's structure is sometimes referred to as "1.5 track diplomacy," because it extends engagement beyond top-level government and diplomatic officials to include scholars, current and retired military officials and others who often have been directly engaged in the issues being examined and can influence policy outcomes.
School of Diplomacy dean, Andrea Bartoli, will possibly co-facilitate one of the dialogues. Formerly head of conflict resolution programs at George Mason University and Columbia University, Bartoli has served as a mediator or facilitator on numerous peacemaking initiatives including efforts in Mozambique, Kosovo and Burundi.
In addition to the ICR conference, plans for the project include the publication of two books on the South China Sea: the first focusing on Chinese perspectives on the dispute; and the second, examining the conflict within the context of U.S.-China bilateral relations.
The grant is the first for the School of Diplomacy's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, and will help elevate its role as an effective forum for policy discussion and debate on the national and international level. The Center promotes interdisciplinary research on a wide range of topics with an emphasis on conflict prevention, management, resolution, and post-conflict peace building and reconstruction. Through research, education and practice activities, faculty, students, alumni and colleagues work together to develop the interdisciplinary field of peace and conflict studies
Graduate students will be involved in assisting Wang in planning the conferences and workshops. Through the project, students at the School of Diplomacy will have an opportunity to engage in real world policy issues. This kind of hands-on experience, Wang says, transfers directly to students. He adds, "As practitioners, and as scholars, it is important to bring what we learn back to the classroom, and to provide opportunities for networking." He adds, "this grant is a major investment in the Center's work, one that will enable us to participate in national policy debate and contribute to conflict management practice between the two countries. We are grateful to the Luce Foundation for its partnership."
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