JPRI Critique Vol. XVIII No. 4 (September 2012)
Can Strait Talk Change Your Life and Change the World?
by Eric Weldon

Note: JPRI is pleased to support Strait Talk, a student-centered non-partisan dialogue program that seeks to transform cross-Strait and broader Asia-Pacific relations by connecting young people from both sides of the Taiwan Strait as well as from the United States—and by empowering them to become a new generation of peacebuilders. Each spring JPRI hosts the Berkeley Bay Area Strait Talk Peace Symposium in partnership with the Institute of East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and Asia Society Northern California.

1On the first day we were told, “This will be the best experience of your life.” At first I was skeptical. As the week progressed, however, these words came to ring true. Now I believe that Strait Talk will indeed shape my future – not only because of the knowledge and skills I gained from the rich program, but also because it inspired a passion for peacemaking and provided the opportunity to nurture friendships with fellow delegates that I hope will last a lifetime.

The symposium packed a tremendous amount into one week. At the core of Strait Talk is Interactive Conflict Resolution (ICR) training. The delegates engaged in ICR workshops for more than thirty hours to learn how to dig out core issues in a conflict and understand the basic needs of contending parties in order to craft solutions that can be acceptable to all. While I cannot summarize in a sentence or two here all this training involving numerous case studies of conflicts from around the world, I would like to give one example of a seemingly simple exercise that conveyed to us many complex lessons. We were given a few minutes to think of as many ways as we could to divide up an orange between two groups. Starting with the obvious ways – i.e., cut the fruit in half or peel it and parcel out the pieces into two equal piles – we moved onto more creative solutions that included planting the seeds and sharing the harvest. This exercise helped us discuss differing priorities and time horizons of negotiations.

The ICR workshops were supplemented by panel discussions with accomplished scholars and policy practitioners on cross-Strait issues. All this training was put into practice by the collective task of creating a “Consensus Document” on cross-Strait policy that had to be signed by the three country delegations. There was also a project-based component, in which every delegate was called upon to formulate a Peace Project and pledge to develop it during the coming year.

2Even before the Strait Talk experience, I had thought a lot about becoming a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State. Now I feel that I have gained a better understanding of the nuances as well as significance of conflict management, and become more enthusiastic than ever about helping promote peace in our world. (Eric Weldon, right, with a member of the Taiwan delegation)

My enthusiasm is bolstered by the sense of community. I have joined a growing network of idealistic peacemakers. So many small moments during Strait Talk when nothing particularly dramatic happened – say, when staying up late at a coffee shop to iron out the final section of the Consensus Document, or carrying back supplies from one of the Strait Talk coordinator’s apartments – left a strong impression. Things just felt right. In fact, within a few days of meeting we were talking about “unbreakable bonds” of friendship. I have already gotten to know several Strait Talk alumni from past years and other venues, and look forward to meeting many more.

3Strait Talk lasts more than a week; it is a commitment to continue building peace after the symposium week is over. One idea from the 2012 Berkeley-San Francisco symposium involves setting up video conferences linking university students in mainland China, Taiwan, and the United States to allow them to discuss cross-Strait issues. Another project is to help educate people about cross-Strait issues by translating relevant articles from Chinese into English, and vice versa. These kinds of initiatives are important since they can allow Strait Talk alumni to make an impact even before they attain influential positions in government and civil society. Through Peace Projects, members of the Strait Talk network hope to not only change the lives of the delegates, but touch the lives of people around the world.

Eric Weldon is a degree candidate in the Master of Asia Pacific Studies (MAPS) program at University of San Francisco. Eric has also studied at Tianjin Normal University under the auspices of the Chinese Scholarship Council. He was a member of the U.S. delegation in the 2012 Berkeley-San Francisco Strait Talk Symposium. This summer he worked on translation projects for The Asia Foundation in Beijing.

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