The events following the May 1999 American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the April 2001 plane collision over the South China Sea demonstrate that there is still much ground to be covered before we can claim that China and US have reached a stable strategic understanding. In their present state, security exchanges are ill equipped to address the problem. At conferences, senior scholars and policy-makers too often simply take turns in berating the other sides policies and motives, talking past each other. Little listening or learning transpires. Rather than alleviating suspicions between the two sides, such lecturing often actually exacerbates tensions.
This pitfall of present Sino-American security exchanges is partly because senior scholars and policy makers often are not in a position to express their views frankly or acknowledge that the other sides view has its own logic. Their views about security and Sino-American relations have usually already hardened, and bureaucratic and domestic politics further constrain their behavior. Hence, more high-level conferences and exchanges are no panacea.
The SASD seeks to provide an innovative solution to this problem. During the Dialogues annual meetings and electronic communications, members will work to foster a common strategic understanding. Social psychologists have discovered that intergroup contact will only improve intergroup relations under certain conditions. Drawing on the advice of social and cross-cultural psychologists, the Dialogue will be structured in a way to achieve three central objectives. These objectives make the Dialogue unique, unlike any existing security exchanges between the U.S. and China. First, Chinese scholars currently operate within the Chinese political context and American scholars similarly work within the American political context. When they come together, therefore, the relationship is usually an adversarial one of opposing national identities. An open, informal discussion will be the basis to build a sense that this is a joint venture of equals. Second, the Dialogue is for the new generation of young Chinese and American security scholars. The Dialogue seeks to promote a common security culture among the new generation before they assume more prominent positions where they might be prevented from frankly expressing their views. Third, the Dialogue will lay a foundation for building a community of security experts, not apart from their individual national identities but along side of them. Scholars have limited understandings of to each others security cultures, and need a forum where they can develop a common language to talk and think about pressing security issues in Sino-American relations. By issuing high-quality policy-oriented report series, this community will make its voice heard in both Beijing and Washington, and be able to shape both Washington and Beijings policy with broader perspectives, especially by taking the other sides concerns into consideration. Better understanding of the other sides strategic thinking will lessen the chance of misperception, miscalculation, and conflict.
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