Leading scholars of conflict resolution took a whirlwind tour of China, thanks to a joint effort by the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament (CPAPD) and the AFSC’s Northeast Asia Quaker International Affairs Representative Jason Tower.

The delegation was headed by Dean Andrea Bartoli, Director of George Mason University’s prestigious Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR).  ICAR psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, an anthropologist and an economist met with Chinese academics, civil society organizations’ staff and government officials in Beijing, Nanjing, Changzhou and Shanghai.

Also on the trip was Joseph Gerson, AFSC’s Disarmament Coordinator who initiated AFSC’s exchanges with CPAPD in 2008. He found the meetings and informal discussions provided an opportunity to explore possible future cooperation on disarmament and demilitarization work between U.S. and Chinese civil society groups.

In just eight days, the group connected with over 100 potential collaborators, helping to deepen their understanding of 21st Century China and beginning to explore future collaborations. 

 “It is gratifying to see such interest in opening a dialogue on conflict issues with China,” Jason said. “Not only will working together on such issues help both sides find better ways of managing domestic social issues, it will also work towards a baseline consensus on how to work more positively in the face of tensions between China and the US. Peace building in this fashion is integral to AFSC, and we feel this event is a solid step in the right direction. “

At Beijing’s Tsinghua University, the conflict resolution scholars gave a seminar introducing ICAR’s approach to conflict issues. The Chinese scholars in turn explained what they identified as some of China’s key challenges. Also in Beijing the U.S. delegation met with a prominent Chinese scholar studying the role of the media in conflict. The scholar expressed his strong interest in translating an ICAR text on media and conflict into Chinese and incorporating it into his courses.

In Nanjing, the group toured the Nanjing Massacre Museum, met the director of the Nanjing Peace Studies Association, and gave a presentation at the prestigious Nanjing University. The group next visited Changzhou to attend a conference on a range of conflict issues and approaches to their resolution. More than 60 Chinese academics and officials came to the event, which included panels on transnational peacebuilding and trade and economic frictions.

During the conference, both American and Chinese participants were very surprised to discover how much their understandings of the basic meaning of conflict, and how parties to a conflict recognize and relate to one another, differed.

Dean Bartoli noted that it will be critical for his institute to conduct more research with Chinese colleagues on their different understandings of “conflict” and “contradictions” and their possible management. He noted that this research will be instrumental to developing stronger mechanisms to manage future tensions between the U.S. and China.

The last stop on the group’s trip was Shanghai, where they met with grassroots civil society groups, including a newly established nonprofit incubator working to provide support and relief to local communities.  The incubator staff was very interested in community based approaches ICAR has developed to manage local tensions.

The delegation’s visit grew out of an October 2009 conference on conflict resolution co-sponsored by AFSC and CPAPD. At CPAPD’s request, AFSC brought 14 practitioners to China to discuss how to respond to social conflict in China resulting from the global economic crisis. An ICAR scholar attended that conference. Subsequently, ICAR contacted Jason Tower for help making broader contacts with Chinese partners to work on conflict issues.

After the CPAPD agreed to host and provide some support for a follow up activity, Jason worked closely with ICAR to organize the June trip to China by eight ICAR conflict resolution experts.