Rongwei Zhu ‘24

CRongwei Zhu '24

Conflict and Cooperation in the 21st Century

Thirteen years ago during the midst of the 2008 Recession, my cousin was the first in my family to set foot on American soil. Like many of her fellow citizens, my cousin’s American dream was largely inspired by the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, the symbolic Statue of Liberty, and the rich downtown Manhattan. Perceiving America as the pinnacle of wealth and the acme of knowledge, my cousin, after introducing her nationality to her roommate at Purdue University, was shocked to hear her first question: “Do you guys have electricity back in China?” When my cousin told me her story, I, as a six year old, did little to comprehend. But seven years later when I immigrated to Orange County, California, her story once again appeared in my memory, for one of my classmates repeatedly questioned whether or not I’ve had hamburgers back home; to which, I answered: “No, because I don’t really like hamburgers.” He didn’t get my message.

It was not until recently did I grasp the weight of national narratives in hindering mutual understanding and exacerbating conflicts between citizens of different states. In fact, coming into Boston College, I was reluctant to embrace my identity as a Chinese international student. With the help of several upperclassmen and peer advisors, I applied and received admission into our IS program with a concentration in cooperation and conflict. Throughout my first three semesters at BC, my understanding of “conflict” has largely developed as the result of many meaningful conversations with my fellow classmates from the department. Conflict, in the context of the 21st century, can take many different forms. When we think about “conflict” in a traditional stance, our minds, perhaps, go immediately towards Putin’s seizing of the Crimea; or America’s war in Afghanistan; or the recent trade wars between China and Australia. However, in this digital era, even a simple phrase can become the cause of serious international conflicts.

In the United States, anti-Asian discrimination significantly intensified as a result of former president Donald Trump calling COVID-19 the “China Virus.” As I read report after report on incidents of racial violence committed against Asians and Asian-Americans, I became increasingly concerned about many Americans’ twisted understanding of China and its people. On the other hand, fervent anti-Trump tweets flooded the headlines of Tencent and Weibo in China. Influenced by the biased media on their respective sides, Chinese and American citizens unconsciously developed a mutual sense of hostility without grasping the roots of their conflict.

But what about cooperation? In a world connected by trade and interactions, international cooperation seems unalienable with human progress. Yet if we fail to look past our national narratives and abandon our prejudicial judgments, the possibility of cooperation will inevitably be overwhelmed by the cries of conflict. Recognizing the problem, however, is merely the first step. My experience in taking the two foundational courses for IS majors here at BC allowed me to significantly develop my ability to evaluate sources. By alienating myself from the editorial notes of the media, I am able to examine events from multiple perspectives. I greatly look forward to further developing these skills throughout my remaining years in the program. We hold the future in our hands, and it is up to us to choose between a future of conflict or cooperation.

Rongwei Zhu ‘24
November 2021