Harvey Dzodin: NGOs play crucial role in China-US cooperation

July 29 , 2020



Bill Gates, Co-Chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in this Jan 22, 2019 file photo.

By Harvey Dzodin,a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization(CCG).

With the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to accelerate across the globe, you may think there is no choice but to throw in the proverbial towel.

However, there is a glimmer of hope that NGOs on both sides of the bilateral divide could unite in combating and containing the novel coronavirus.

Why are NGOs important? While governments tend to operate on a macro level, NGOs usually operate on a micro level. They tend to move quickly to analyze a situation and take action at the earliest possible moment. They can also operate in matters where governments may have to exercise caution or be constrained from engaging.

The establishment of Sino-US relations was given a huge push by “ping-pong diplomacy” in 1972. These and other NGO efforts during more than four decades sustained the Sino-American relationship until recently.

NGOs, especially in the United States, may be unaware that they are practicing an ancient Chinese virtue. As Chinese philosopher Confucius taught 25 centuries ago, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It was surprising that a report from the Center for China and Globalization on the Sino-US nongovernmental cooperation in response to COVID-19 confirmed that these values are still very much alive with efforts made under the umbrella of the Sister Cities program.

Previously, I’ve always thought of this decades-old goodwill program that matches jurisdictions across various countries as a bit of nice soft-power fluff. But in this medical emergency, the program has facilitated bidirectional humanitarian efforts based on long-established relationships, with the ability to cut through red tape and get emergency supplies to the right places more quickly than otherwise possible.

The program has earned the respect of citizens of the paired jurisdictions who were aided at a time of great need.

Foundations on both sides have made great contributions. For example, the Heren Foundation, associated with China’s Fuyao Glass Industry Group, donated 1 million masks, 10,000 items of protective clothing and other lifesaving equipment to the state of Ohio.

On Jan 27, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged a $5 million emergency grant to fight COVID-19 and subsequently increased its commitment several times.

There are numerous additional notable contributions of foundations and charities in both countries. These acts of human kindness facilitated by NGOs will continue until a viable vaccine is developed.

Looking to the future, it’s better to engage with others to get to know them, their needs, their hopes and fears than to consider them an “unknown other” to be potentially misunderstood, feared and demonized.

Anti-pandemic cooperation should be strengthened by, for example, strengthening collaboration on vaccine research between pharmaceutical companies and research institutions in China and the US. This is important due to the political pressure from some quarters not to do so, when it goes without saying that two heads are better than one.

Strengthening of economic cooperation and revitalizing of global economies have also been suggested, in addition to protecting global value chains, broadening NGO exchanges in multiple fields and deepening mutual understanding between China and the US.

Increasing people-to-people exchanges is recommended to deepen mutual understanding and trust as well as enhancing communication and increasing the willingness to cooperate.

I agree with the visionary futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, who wrote, “We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth” but I agree much more with another visionary, Marshall McLuhan, who wrote, “There are no passengers on spaceship Earth, we are all crew”.

If we are willing to take on the responsibilities that these times demand, we have to be hands-on and all hands on deck.

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