During the recent spring break, students in the Schmidt Program on Artificial Intelligence, Emerging Technologies, and National Power at International Security Studies engaged in three days of discussion and debate with peers at Renmin University in Beijing, China.

The Yale-Renmin Student Dialogue on AI, Emerging Technology, and U.S.-China Relations took place on the campus of Renmin University, with the participation of 19 students from the Jackson School, the Yale School of Management, the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Yale College. Led by Arne Westad, Elihu Professor of History and Global Affairs and director of International Security Studies, the delegation also included Yale faculty and fellows with expertise in artificial intelligence, China, and U.S.-China relations.

Li Chen, deputy dean of the School of International Studies and director of the Center for International Security and Strategy at Renmin, led the Renmin group alongside an equal number of faculty and student colleagues.

Claudia Wilson MPP ’24 speaks during an exchange on U.S.-China relations with students from Renmin University in Beijing.

“The dialogue with Renmin University is a crucial avenue for bilateral, peer-to-peer engagement on complicated issues that are becoming increasingly important to relations between our two countries,” said Ted Wittenstein, executive director of ISS and lecturer in global affairs.

“Having frank discussions about the many challenges associated with AI can enhance mutual understanding between the U.S. and China and help prevent technology competition from devolving into inadvertent conflict,” he added.

Students and faculty broke into small groups over the course of the dialogue to share thinking on the principal strategic challenges in U.S.-China relations today and the role that emerging technologies play in contributing to those challenges. In preparation for these conversations, Yale students in the Schmidt Program contributed background papers and produced written oral statements on topics that included the shared risks of AI, AI ethics and safety, government regulatory approaches, semiconductor supply chain geopolitics, and technology competition.

“It is important for our students and faculty to hear the very different perspectives of our Chinese counterparts,” said Westad. “Someday in the not-too-distant future, our students may be sitting across an actual negotiating table from Chinese officials. It’s not inconceivable that one of those officials could have been a student peer from the dialogue at Renmin.”

(From left) Ted Wittenstein, Arne Westad, Yale professor Jing Tsu, and Renmin University’s Li Chen engage in a roundtable discussion at an anniversary celebration for Yale Center Beijing.

In addition to the time spent in dialogue with Renmin peers, Yale students had the opportunity to participate in an anniversary celebration of the Yale Center Beijing, meet with U.S. Embassy officials, and visit the Forbidden City and Summer Palace with their Renmin student hosts.

“In today’s climate, we rarely get the opportunity to speak candidly with Chinese peers on such contentious topics,” said Claudia Wilson MPP ’24. “I learned a lot about the ‘red lines’ and potential areas of cooperation in AI governance, as well as the Chinese perspective on other topics such as export controls.”

The first iteration of the dialogue took place over Zoom in April 2023. The 2024 spring break trip to Beijing was the second iteration of the dialogue and the first held in person.