New views on conflict resolution in China
Mary Ellen McNish and Jason Tower with the staff of a Citizen’s Legal Aid Center attached to East China University of Law and Politics.Photo: AFSC
The global financial crisis offered AFSC a special opportunity to assist China as it explores the role civil society can play – while working with the state – to alleviate conflict.
Partnering with the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament (CPAPD), AFSC brought 14 experts and practitioners of conflict resolution from 11 nations to Chongqing for an October conference titled “Responding to the Challenges of Financial Crisis and Building Social Harmony.”
While focusing on how to respond to the social impacts of the global financial crisis, participants and hosts explored the role that civil society might play regarding social issues in China. Past practice has been for the state to leave minimal space for civil society organizations to get involved in conflict issues. While recently some academics and volunteers have provided some legal assistance to marginalized groups, China is now looking to civil society for new ways to prevent conflict.
Explaining cultural differences and sharing innovative models of conflict resolution made for rich dialogues, according to participants like Millicent Carvalho, Ph.D., a research associate at Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work.
“The Chinese made a decision to drill down to those of us who can give substantive information on how to handle conflict when trying to institute rapid changes,” says Millicent Carvalho, a social worker and certified mediator with 25 years’ experience. “Most impressive to me was the mutual respect AFSC and CPAPD felt and showed each other. They felt you really understood them and that was remarkable.”
Jason Tower, AFSC’s Northeast Asia Quaker International Affairs Representative, says that bringing the right experts, “people with open minds who would ask questions and who would listen to Chinese colleagues” was critical. The conference was the third exchange of U.S. peace activists and Chinese delegates in a series that began in 2008. AFSC hopes to continue connecting experts in peace and conflict studies with influential Chinese interested in expanding those studies in China.
Jason notes that the conference drew “positive responses from our Chinese partners. This suggests that AFSC has gained the trust of our Chinese partners and the government, both of which are willing to continue to work with us on finding innovative ways to prevent conflict.”