China-US Symposium to kick off this weekend

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The eighth annual two-day China-U.S. Symposium will take place this weekend. It will feature a variety of panels on topics related to U.S.-China relations based on this year’s theme, “Common Ground.” The symposium, which is presented by the Sino-U.S. Relations Group Engagement (SURGE), will be held in the Cabot Intercultural Center.

According to SURGE Director and Programming Coordinator Sean Gunn, the theme focuses on the interests that China and the United States both share.

“We talk a lot about the U.S. and China clashing,” Gunn, a senior, said. “We want to talk about, OK in those clashes, where can we find this common ground? Where can we find where the interests align? Because we can talk until we’re blue about fighting over control of the South China Sea. Let’s start moving forward.”

The symposium will kick off on Friday at noon and will continue through Saturday afternoon. Panels this year include “The Hungry Superpowers, China and Americas Search for Alternative Energy,” “States, Secularism, and Security: the Future of Strategic Engagements in East Asia,” “Dancing With Sensitivity: Public Expressions in Modern China” and “Turbulent Waters: The Future of the South China Sea.”

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On Saturday, Hemispheres, Tufts’ undergraduate journal of international affairs, will sponsor breakout sessions, which are smaller classroom workshops, according to GunnSURGE Marketing Director and Website Coordinator Panayiotis Koutsogeorgas explained that some of the subjects covered by the breakout sessions include China’s investments in Latin America and prostitution in China.

This year, the symposium’s organizers sought to take better advantage of experts on and around the Tufts campus, according to SURGE Deputy Director and Finance Coordinator Joe Mark.

“We’ve been stressing bringing in sort of local talent, because we have such a great resource of schools in the area,” Mark, a senior, said.

In past years, the symposium has not fully made use of the knowledge base available on campus, according to Gunn.

“We also push trying to use Tufts resources because, in past symposiums, there are several professors at Tufts who have great understanding of these issues, and we hadn’t used [them],” he said.

Assistant Finance Director and Curriculum Coordinator Winnona DeSombre added that the subject of this year’s symposium has enabled them to cover a variety of topics associated with the U.S.-China relationship.

“One of the main [reasons] why this sort of overarching theme is so general is because now that the China-U.S. Symposium is not about solely security, it can branch out into a lot more different topics,” DeSombre, a first-year, said.

Koutsogeorgas, a senior, noted the importance of China’s environmental impact in particular.

“We all think that [the U.S.-China relationship is] a really important relationship, and that both countries need to make moves when it comes to the environment,” he said. “I think that they should be helping each other out in that aspect, because it is a local issue, but there are still global implications.”

According to Gunn, planning for the event began last August. The group discussed potential themes for the panels to determine what would be feasible and what would be interesting to the group’s members before contacting potential speakers, he explained.

Marketing for the event has included advertising through social media, putting up posters around campus, spreading information by word of mouth and collaborating with professors to share information with their students, as well as reaching out to other professors in the area, according to Mark.

“This past week, we’ve been doing a lot of flyering, we’ve made banners, … Facebook events, Twitter,” Koutsogeorgas said. “I made a website for SURGE this past week.”

Mark underscored that the symposium is meant to be understood by all students.

“I’d like to think it’s a very approachable event,” he said. “I think the speakers that we have coming are of a quality that they’ll be able to make it approachable. And especially with the breakout sessions, we like to bring in students to that because it just gives them the opportunity to ask the questions that you wouldn’t really want to ask in a big lecture hall.”

Koutsogeorgas agreed, noting that the event can help provide some more in-depth insights for students who may not know very much about relations between the two countries.

“I just think it’s good for people that don’t really know that much about China and its relations to its neighbors and in relation to the U.S.,” he said. “It’s just a good learning experience and kind of eye-opening in general.”

SURGE officially started on campus last fall after the China-U.S. Symposium was separated from the Institute for Global Leadership, according to Gunn. He also noted that the symposium will still include a framework similar to those of past symposiums.

The symposium was formerly organized by the Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services (ALLIES), according to DeSombre.

“We went into it with this mindset that the symposium was going to be a lot smaller [this year], and we’ve actually ended up with an event that is pretty similar to what we ran last year, which we’re pretty happy with,” Mark said.

Mark noted that the group has undergone significant growth since its inception in the beginning of the academic year.

“We started out the semester with I think four members that carried over from last year, and now we have a fully operating [executive] board, and we have plans for next year,” he said. “We’re … pretty confident about the future of SURGE. It’s definitely been a learning and a building process this year, but I think we’re pretty happy with the way it’s gone.”

Gunn explained that the group now has about 20 board members, but more students show up for the organization’s discussion groups.

SURGE has hosted a number of events throughout the year, including a lecture by Kathleen DeBoer, deputy head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Washington Center, in October and a trivia night earlier this semester, according to DeSombre.

“It seems like people are definitely interested in the China-U.S. relation in general and learning more about it,” Koutsogeorgas said.

Admission to the symposium is free, according to Mark.

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