2017 5 Under 25: Leaders in US-China Relations

This year’s feature “5 under 25: Leaders in U.S.-China Relations” profiles five students and professionals who have demonstrated exceptional passion and potential in strengthening the U.S.-China relationship. This year’s editorial board extends our gratitude to our judges, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in China Alan Beebe, Executive Director of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School Robert Williams, Associate Director at the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania Yuanyuan Zeng, 2015 Harold W. Rosenthal Fellow in International Affairs Carol Huang, and Yale doctoral candidate in Asian studies Nick Frisch.

Congratulations to the honorees!

Lillygol Sedaghat

National Geographic Fulbright/Scientelling Bootcamp

Lillygol “Lilly” Sedaghat (赛莉莉) is a cross-cultural facilitator and Fulbright – National Geographic Digital Storyteller documenting Taiwan’s waste management system. She graduated from UC Berkeley as the Student Commencement Speaker with a B.A. in Political Economy and concentration in China Studies.

As Head Coach of the Project Pengyou Leadership Program at Harvard University, Lillygol has trained over 500 university students in public narrative– the use of storytelling to build capacity and spur change– and community organizing tactics.

She founded the first Project Pengyou University chapter in the US, a student-led organization connecting US-China youth through cross-cultural dialogue and opportunity sharing, sparking the growth of over 80 Pengyou chapters across the nation.

Previously, Lillygol was the Global Programs & Policy Specialist at the Goldman School of Public Policy, where she designed international education programs for Chinese scholars and government officials on strategic management, education, and governance issues.

The driving philosophy behind Lillygol’s work is her strong belief in the power of storytelling to build community and the power of relationship-building to build a better world.

  1. How did you first become interested in studying China?

My journey to China began with a strong interest in Japanese animation and Korean hip-hop. When my junior year in college rolled around, I knew I wanted to study abroad in East Asia– it was just a matter of where.

So I did the math. My brother lived in Japan, and I had already been there, so I ruled it out. South Korea had a great music and dance scene, but I wanted to go someplace I didn’t know much about. China seemed like a new, vast, adventure-filled place, so I chose to go there.

I arrived in Beijing without knowing a single word of Chinese and suddenly became immersed in an incredibly diverse and multi-faceted society. After four months of living, working, studying and dancing in the capital of the world’s most populated country, I discovered my calling– to build stronger US-China relations through people-to-people relationships.

  1. Why do you believe strong US-China relations matter in 2017?

Our two countries are inextricably linked economically, politically, socially, historically, and environmentally. We may be on opposite sides of the earth, but together, China and the United States are the two pillars on which the rest of the world relies and toggles between.

Global supply chains, identity and opportunity, environmental collaboration and destruction, health risks and discoveries, military might and geopolitics, all these elements play into the US-China relationship and hang in a balance contingent upon mutual understanding and cross-cultural communication.

  1. What is the greatest challenge facing the relationship between the United States and China today?

I believe that the greatest challenge facing the relationship between the United States and China today is the power struggle for international dominance. We are at an inflection point in our history, where the current system of international relations and post World War II / Cold-War geopolitical infrastructure is becoming both outdated and challenged by new forces, issues and developments.

At the root of this change are fundamental questions of identity, intention and purpose: Who are we? Who do we want to be? What is our intention? And what vision do we have for the world? Both the United States and China must ask these questions and express to the other side what their respective answers are, so that conflict does not arise from assumptions or miscommunication.

Our people need a stronger understanding of the culture that influences the other; our systems need to find new innovative ways to blend eastern and western perspectives; our cultures need to find a way to coexist without the need to “other” the other.

  1. If you could pass along one piece of advice to someone looking to learn more about China, what would it be?

China is an incredibly diverse, vast country. If you’re interested in learning more about China, my suggestion is to be open to any and all experiences and set aside any sort of expectations you may have about the country.

China will defy your expectations and reshape your perspective. It is a vortex of paradoxes and a bubbling well of life, but most of all, it is a rich, ancient, complex, beautiful place with millions of individual and collective narratives that weave in and out of each other all seeking to themselves and their nation.  

Stay open and curious, be observant and respectful, and shake off any expectations, assumptions or preconceived notions of China.

Richard Chang

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Richard Chang graduated magna cum laude from Princeton in 2017 with a degree in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Prior to his freshmen year, Richard spent nine months in China where he worked at a Kunming-based NGO that combats human trafficking. Upon returning to Princeton, Richard co-founded the Princeton US-China Coalition (PUCC), a student organization devoted to raising the next generation of leaders in US-China relations and public policy. During the summer after his sophomore year, Richard interned at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and the political section at the US Embassy in Beijing. At the Embassy, Richard briefed the US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, on China’s expanding military capabilities and worked on projects concerning human rights in China and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. During his junior year, Richard traveled to the White House and presented policy recommendations to the National Security Council on how the US can promote the rule of law and human rights in China. Richard is currently planning to attend Army Officer Candidate School to commission as a US Army Officer. Subsequently, Richard hopes to attend law school. Richard ultimately aspires to serve in elected office, where he can play a key role in facilitating the US-China relationship.

  1. How did you first become interested in studying China?

I first became interested in China during my senior year of high school, where I had the opportunity to apply to Princeton’s Bridge Year program, a University-sponsored gap year program that sends seven incoming freshmen to China for nine months to engage in service work. During my gap year in China, I spent seven months in Kunming where I worked at a local NGO and lived in a homestay family. I then spent two months traveling throughout rural areas of Yunnan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces. My gap year in China sparked my interest in studying China, specifically my desire to learn how public policy and NGOs can address the many social challenges China faces as a developing yet also partially developed country.

While living and working in Kunming, I gained a deeper understanding of the various social challenges China faces today. I first worked at a NGO that served homeless children, many of whom were originally from the countryside but ran away from home and are now roaming around Kunming. Working with these homeless children and hearing their personal stories helped me to better understand the challenges of rural life in China—which drove some children to run away from home—as well as the complexities of China’s hukou system—a government system of household registration that prevents many rural homeless children from accessing public services in the cities. In addition to working at this NGO that helped homeless children, I also volunteered at a NGO that combated human and sex trafficking in Kunming and the broader Southeast Asia region. Personally meeting and hearing the stories of survivors of human trafficking sparked my interest in learning how public policy and legislative reform can combat such social injustices in China.

  1. Why do you believe strong US-China relations matter in 2017? 

While conducting research on the “One Belt, One Road” during my internship at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy the summer after my sophomore year, one recurring theme stood out to me: any global issue or problem that the world faces today requires the participation and coordination of both the US and China.

Indeed, in our deeply interconnected world today, strong US-China relations matter because whether global issues such as climate change and cyber security can be fully addressed depends on the extent of US-China cooperation. As the two largest powers in the world, both countries need to also work together as responsible world leaders. Deep ideological differences about global governance and universal values, however, make this easier said than done.

Furthermore, what makes cooperation between both countries even more complex is President Xi’s effort to expand China’s geopolitical influence, which actually creates both opportunities and risks. In contrast to Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Xi Jinping is leading China to take on a more assertive and—what some scholars call—“revisionist” role in the world. From China’s launching of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to the launching of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, President Xi seems to want to transform China from a regional player to a global superpower on par with the United States. While doing so, some scholars argue China wants to revise the international norms set by the US to instead promote its political and governance model. Considering one country is an illiberal one-party state and another is a liberal democracy, tension will most likely continue from this power transition. Despite the many disagreements between the US and China, both countries must find ways to work together for not only their benefit, but also for the benefit of the global community.

  1. What is the greatest challenge facing the relationship between the United States and China today? 

The great challenge facing the relationship between the United States and China today is ideological. In other words, the source of tension behind the two countries is summed up in one question: will liberal democracies continue to be the model form of governance as established by the US following World War II, or will China’s model of autocratic capitalism replace it? How both countries respond to this question will determine the extent of any forms of conflict or cooperation.

Currently, there are broadly two competing visions for governance: autocratic capitalism or liberal democracies. For China, its ideological vision is a one-party autocratic state where censorship, economic growth, and social stability all serve the purpose of safeguarding the political grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). President Xi is also not only promoting this agenda at home, but also advocating that this type of governance model to serve as a “replacement” or “alternative” to western liberal democracies commonly advocated by the US Indeed, for China, universal values, human rights, freedom of religion, and a free press are all relative and subject to the will of the CCP. Any sort of public dissent among citizens is thus deemed as “‘picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and subject to state prosecution under a judicial system that is overseen by the CCP. Through its increasing involvement in developing countries along the “Belt and Road” initiative, China is subtly exporting this vision of illiberal governance centered on state capitalism.

As President Xi consolidates power domestically—as demonstrated in the 19th Party Congress—while also expands China’s global influence, the US faces the dilemma of how to welcome a rising China but also ensure that it adheres to international law and norms. The challenge, however, is that China seems to want to replace the entire ideological basis for western-led institutions that have been the foundation for democratic governance since post-World War II. In other words: gone with liberal democracies and universal values, and in with one-party authoritarianism capitalism. How the US responds to this new shift will prove critical in defining the US-China relationship in this next century.

  1. If you could pass along one piece of advice to someone looking to learn more about China, what would it be?

When studying China, it’s important to do two things. First, it is critical that one analyze contemporary China from a historical lens. It is almost impossible to understand why China is the way it is without knowing where it came from. Furthermore, it is critical to not only become a student not of the last 100 years but also of the last 1,000-2,000 years. This will give one a more nuanced perspective upon what is happening now, and what will happen, than a grasp of immediately past and current policy alone will.

Second, when learning about China, it is important to realize that China is more than just the government or the party. Rather, China is an incredible diverse place, with dozens of different dialects, minority groups, cuisines, cultures, geographies, and traditions. Indeed, a stroll in the town of Lijiang in Yunnan Province where you can meet and learn about the Naxi ethnic minority group will be very different than a Friday night at Beijing’s Sanlitun, one of Beijing’s many popular shopping and entertainment areas. Thus, embrace, enjoy, and explore China’s diverse cultures and ways of life.

Logan Pauley

Pauley, Logan

Logan Pauley recently graduated, with distinction, with a MA in International Politics from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), where he was a Microsoft Fellow, Hassenfeld Fellow, Future Leader Fellow, and Nanjing City Scholarship recipient.  His thesis, written in Mandarin and forthcoming in a Chinese graduate journal, analyzed China’s vetoes in the UN Security Council regarding humanitarian intervention in Syria, and how intervention in Libya denigrated the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and other international normative frameworks. He has consulted on strategies to bring China in closer collaboration with the US in Syria with Freedom Forward and worked on utilizing labor mobility as a means for refugee resettlement with Talent Beyond Boundaries. While at the HNC, Logan worked as a China Foreign Policy Analyst with the State Department, with KPMG China’s US-China Strategic Corridor, and managed the China bureau of the Johns Hopkins SAIS graduate newspaper. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Centre College, Logan studied Mandarin at ICLP in Taiwan, at Tongji University in Shanghai, and as a State Department Critical Language Scholar in Hangzhou. He has published journalistic and academic works in both English and Mandarin on topics ranging from the Chinese housing market, to feminism in the Tang Dynasty, to Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption efforts. Logan was the first ever American Ambassador to the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations. As an upcoming Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow, Logan is committed to liaising the Sino-American relationship, particularly in regards to issues of transnational justice and post-conflict reconstruction.

  1. How did you first become interested in studying China?

My engagement with China began as purely serendipitous – growing up in Versailles, Kentucky, my worldview was relegated to the bucolic American countryside. So, in having to take a language at Centre, I chose to take that which was most divergent from what I knew. After studying abroad for nearly a year during my undergraduate studies, I came to realize the rampant xenophobia harbored by many of those from my geography. At the same time, I witnessed the problematic that an overwhelming majority of those that engage with US-China are from the academic and socioeconomic elite; this often misrepresents the American or Chinese experience. For this reason, my motivation for continuing study of China was both to understand China deeply and to represent my experiences and upbringing in related conversations.

  1. Why do you believe strong US-China relations matter in 2017?

The Sino-American relationship is the most important strategic county-to-country relationship in our contemporary world theater. This was true during the Obama Era, but it rings even more resiliently in our current predicament, in which we see China more frequently functioning as the moral hegemony and model global actor for issues relating to the environment, the Middle East, and the future of Africa. Our ability as an international community to act effectively and meaningfully in cases of violence, terror, injustice, inequity, and disaster relies on the prospect of understanding each other’s geopolitical aims and historical context. As it stands, I believe many of the global issues plaguing the current American administration stem from a wanton disregard of such aims and context and are a paramount example of why strengthening Sino-American relations is still of vital importance today.

  1. What is the greatest challenge facing the relationship between the United States and China today? 

I believe the biggest challenge facing the US-China relationship today is the mutual Other-ing of our respective ideological and normative foundations, and how such a pervasive discrimination inhibits our capacity to trust, respect, and collaborate. Much of this division is rooted in our logic; we see China or America as operating in large-scale country-level initiatives, or conflate the actions of a specific politician, celebrity, or civilian as reflective of the greater population. This line of thought is tunnel-visioned on specifics from either the top-down or the bottom-up—this is not representative of how either country actually is. A myriad Chinese writers have referenced the need for socio-economic reform 上下结合 (top-down and bottom-up blended together); what we need is a national and international understanding that gleans both from the top and the bottom, seeking equal parts an incredibly nuanced but also broad knowledge of the intersectionality of people, government, economic activity, military objectives, and responsibility.

  1. If you could pass along one piece of advice to someone looking to learn more about China, what would it be?

Learn the language. Do not only trust Western media. There does not exist an ineffable authoritative source on China—or any country for that matter. Learning about China is a complex puzzle that you need to form your own understanding of. Find how you fit into the puzzle, and you will see all the other pieces come together.

Nofar Hamrany

Nofar Hamrany

Nofar Hamrany is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and a senior at New York University Shanghai, the first Sino-American university, studying for a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Economics and a Minor in Chinese Language.

Nofar spent over three years in China, where she founded GoGreen Week, transformed Green Shanghai, and conducted research on economics and environmental policy. While studying abroad in Washington, D.C., she connected this advocacy to policy by conducting research on defense and energy policies at the Hudson Institute. Returning to Shanghai this year, Nofar started working for the Alliance for Water Stewardship, creating and implementing programs to protect water resources in China. Between semesters, Nofar participated in political delegations about the Israel-Palestine conflict in order to learn more about the current issues and opportunities. Such experiences reinforced her vision of the close relations between environmental issues and security ones and her passion for environmental action, public policy and international relations. She is also a Schwarzman Scholar.

  1. How did you first become interested in studying China?

Serving in the only peacekeeping department of the IDF, the Foreign Relations Brigade, exposed me to Israel’s military relations and led me to face concrete security threats. As part of the training, I learned about China’s role in the area and its relations with Israel in the rapidly changing world. People always say that China is the future. I disagree. China is the present, and it has been for a while. For this reason, I applied to study economics at New York University’s new campus in Shanghai, where I am currently closely witnessing China’s rise as a global leader in international conflicts and environmental action.

  1. Why do you believe strong US-China relations matter in 2017?

As the two largest economies in the world and the world’s biggest energy consumers, US-China relations are critical for working on the intersection of environmental challenges with policy, business and science to be more prepared for the reality our planet and its citizens are facing.

3. If you could pass along one piece of advice to someone looking to learn more about China, what would it be?

If you want to learn more about China you have to come and live here. This is the only way to truly learn about its culture, politics and economics from your own experience and the people in it, rather than from others’ perception.

Cameron Hickert

Cameron Hickert

Cameron works at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where his research portfolio covers Chinese domestic politics, China’s economy, and East Asian nuclear issues. While in Beijing last year as a Schwarzman Scholar, Cameron co-founded 新民评论, a journal aggregating global perspectives on Chinese domestic and foreign policy. Interested in science and policy in China, he worked with the World Health Organization in Beijing, where he and another Schwarzman Scholar authored and designed WHO-China’s first-ever annual report aimed at the public. Previously, Cameron was a researcher at the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum – he coauthored an article on geothermal energy in China, which was published in the Mandarin edition of the Financial Times. As a State Department Critical Language Scholar, he founded Care to Change, an organization aimed at improving early childhood education in China. Cameron studied physics and international studies at the University of Denver, and speaks and reads Mandarin.

  1. How did you first become interested in studying China?

My high school’s foreign language offerings were limited to Spanish and French, so when I got to college, it really felt like one of those “kid in a candy store” moments. I knew I wanted to learn a language with a new script, and I ended up in a Mandarin class. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who were excited about the language, and thrilled by China – no one in there was only trying to eke out a passing grade. It was infectious – I fell in love with Mandarin, and began thinking about ways to get to China. So I absolutely owe my initial interest to friends in those courses. Beyond the language, I kept running into China sort of by accident, whether it be in international studies classes or while pursuing scientific topics – energy, environment, and even nuclear issues. I think that’s probably a result of the immense complexity that is China; my curiosity wouldn’t let me stay away.

  1. Why do you believe strong US-China relations matter in 2017?

Put simply, I can’t think of an international relationship that’s more consequential. It encompasses massive populations, powerful militaries, the globe’s two largest economies—the list goes on and on. And while I think we generally use versions of the phrase, “X is more complex and urgent than ever before” without adequate justification, the US-China relationship warrants the idea, if for no other reason than China has come so far, so fast. I was lucky enough to intern with the State Department in Vienna during the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, and it struck me that many US diplomats spoke a multitude of languages, but none spoke Mandarin. When it came to any interaction with the Chinese delegation, everything was in English. It felt like the US wasn’t keeping up with the immensity of what was happening in China.

  1. What is the greatest challenge facing the relationship between the United States and China today?

At the moment, North Korea. The stakes are high in a way that many in both the US and China underestimate. And beyond the issue of whether either nation will get North Korea to meaningfully alter its behavior, there’s the question: Can the US or China shift North Korea’s decisions with nonviolent means? It would seem almost ludicrous that the two most powerful countries in the world couldn’t alter the behavior of a country like North Korea – that Kim might be the ultimate decider in some important ways – yet it’s a real question. But plenty of China-watchers are focusing on North Korea. So in thinking about a less-discussed US-China challenge, I’m increasingly looking at the two nations’ space programs. As a borderless environment, space is a massively complicated area. It’s distant enough that it might seem like a good theater for posturing, but technology up there is so important that actions won’t be interpreted lightly. And there’s a real use-it-or-lose-it factor for space-based capabilities that heightens the risk for dangerous miscalculations. Plus, there’s a lot to lose – for the US, for China, and for the rest of the globe – in terms of both technical abilities and valuable norms. Currently, the US is debating its participation in the International Space Station. China wants to build its own space station. That’s a pretty big gulf between attitudes. People far smarter than I have written some excellent analysis; but this topic still doesn’t get the attention it deserves, despite posing so many interesting dilemmas.

  1. If you could pass along one piece of advice to someone looking to learn more about China, what would it be?

Learn Mandarin, and find a way to get to China to study it. It’s difficult to understand how much the tones in Mandarin matter until you converse with native speakers, think you’ve spoken the most beautiful Mandarin sentence, and subsequently are stonewalled by blank stares. And I was surprised at the number of language scholarships funding Mandarin study in China. I was fortunate enough to study in Suzhou on a Critical Language Scholarship, and later found resources through the University of Denver to study in Beijing. But with Boren, Blakemore, and postgraduate scholarships like Schwarzman, there are a surprising number of ways to make it happen. And living in China as a foreigner is such a humbling adventure. The best advice I have heard about it is, “Everything is difficult, but nothing’s impossible.” I have yet to meet anyone who has spent significant time and didn’t walk away with more than a few exceptional stories.


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