Max Goldberg (Class of 2018) reflects on an opportunity to meet with a Congressional Delegation while in China as a Schwarzman Scholar. This meeting was part of the National Committee and Schwarzman Scholars program’s partnership to engage Schwarzman Scholars at all stages, helping further prepare them for leadership roles in the U.S.-China relationship. Through the partnership, current Schwarzman Scholars, recent graduates, and alumni have opportunities to learn from and engage with policymakers, policy influencers, and leading China experts in the National Committee’s network.
This month, much to my surprise, a select group of my fellow Schwarzman Scholars and I had the opportunity to join a U.S. congressional delegation while they toured Beijing. The delegation was organized by the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations and included Congressmen Darin LaHood (IL-18), Rick Larsen (WA-2), Roger Marshall (KS-1), Gregorio “Killi” Sablan (MP), and David Young (IA-3), as well as Steve Orlins, the National Committee’s president.
We met up with the delegation at the Temple of Heaven. I expected a highly formal event and several of us had prepared a bevy of policy questions for each of the delegation members; however, the congressmen set a far more relaxed tone. Representative Marshall even whipped out his phone for a selfie—with us! Soon enough, our conversations turned to policy. At the foot of the temple, Representative Larsen and I traded views on how to address political divisions on trade. In a Starbucks at the Silk Market, Representative LaHood, Mr. Orlins, and scholar Ellie Freund animatedly discussed China’s compliance with the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s South China Sea ruling in The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China. Scholars Jacko Walz and Madeline Siebert talked with Representative Sablan about nuclear security policy as it relates to U.S. territories in Polynesia.
After a morning of sightseeing, we converged on Quan Ju De, a storied Beijing restaurant famous for its Peking duck. There we were joined by Peking University Professor Zha Daojiong, who lectured and presided over a discussion on the state of U.S.-China relations, with particular emphasis on the Korean Peninsula. Each congressman—and each scholar—brought his or her own questions. Scholar Janet Eom questioned China’s “permissive” attitude towards North Korea, and Representative Young pushed the group to explain China’s recent tariff hikes on ethanol and dried distillers grains, which is an important issue for his Iowan constituents. My queries focused on the extent of Chinese Communist Party influence in the private sector. The lunch concluded with friendly goodbyes, invitations to congressmen’s offices, and exchanges of contact information with the hopes of continuing our discussion. And, yes, more selfies, initiated by congressmen and scholars alike.
On the way back, the scholars and I debriefed with each other. We shared our sense of surprise and gratitude to have been able to participate in the congressional delegation. As we expressed our collective appreciation for the congressmen’s warmth and openness, we also came to understand our own contributions to the conversation. Each of us engaged with the congressmen, raising issues that were on our minds and close to our hearts, sharing our opinions, stories, and curiosity.