Opinion / Center

Peace Corps just an idea for China

By Harvey Dzodin (China Daily) Updated: 2015-10-19 09:58

Peace Corps just an idea for China

Negotiations on the China-United States Bilateral Investment Treaty will make up most of the discussions during President Xi Jinping's forthcoming state visit to the US, the Ministry of Commerce said on Sept 16, 2015. [Photo/IC]

Was the Xi-Obama summit a success or not? Since I’m an optimist I’d say that it was indeed a success despite the fact that there‘s no deal on the much needed Bilateral Investment Treaty that we’re told will be a reality before President Obama leaves office in January, 2017.

There was also no deal on the cyber-space project but how could there be? Seeing as it’s almost an impossible matter to tackle with the current state of technology. At least each side got each other’s attention. And certainly China got what it wanted, to be viewed as an equal to the almighty USA.

After careful reflection during the Golden Week, there was issue that wasn’t even on the table of discussion that may be beyond the realm of possibility at least for now but that can be an important goal if we are to avoid the dreaded Thucydides trap. First, a Chinese Peace Corps to be followed by a Sino-US Peace Corps later on.

China still does a terrible job at winning the hearts and minds of those around them. Its soft power is worse than mushy power. Take Africa for example. China has poured billions of dollars in Africa but still receives no love due to the “ugly Chinese” who at best don’t mix well with locals and at worst absolutely antagonize them.

How does china fix this? Step one, take a page from the American playbook and start a Peace Corps with Chinese characteristics. Maybe it can be called a ‘Friendship Corps’ or ‘Panda Volunteers’. The point is the US Peace Corps, brainchild of President John F. Kennedy, has a history of more than five decades, operating in 140 plus countries including China, and a past and present volunteer roster of 220,000 from college-age to very senior 70s and above. Even President Jimmy Carter’s mother, Miss Lillian, was a nursing volunteer in India working with leprosy patients when she was 70. President Carter said that as a Peace Corps Volunteer she had “one of the most glorious experiences of her life”.

There is no question that this would be a complete win-win paradigm for all stakeholders. Just as the Peace Corps’ objectives remain the same - promoting world peace and friendship - it has kept up with the times using the most modern technology to promote food and water security, disease prevention and treatment such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, and promoting gender equality. These are goals that the US, China, and many other countries share.

Peace Corps Volunteers receive little pay in terms of money but acquire a wealth of skills in their two years of service that many describe as “life-changing”. Volunteers learn about leadership and self-reliance. They are world citizens building bridges between cultures one person at a time.

As is the case for the US, China would certainly increase its soft power. Instead of all those Chinese workers and bosses insulated in their gated compounds, this effort would unleash an army of highly trained Chinese goodwill ambassadors speaking local languages, living in their communities, and being actively involved.

At the same time, it would be training the highly educated and worldly citizens to participate in Chinese and global economies.

But this is only step one. If Russians and Americans can work side-by-side in the confines of the International Space Station, why can’t China and US put the emphasis on friendship and build the new great power relationship that Presidents Xi and Obama have called for?

Why not set an example for the world at large and set up a Sino-American Peace Corps comprised of team members from both countries? Not only will all the benefits accrue to both countries but bilateral friendships will be built one team at a time. If we can supercharge our people-to-people bilateral relations we have a reasonable shot at avoiding the Thucydides trap.

President Kennedy’s brother, Robert, was fond of quoting George Bernard Shaw, “Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream dreams that never were, and ask why not”. Indeed, why not?

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