The China-U.S. structural conflicts intensify the two powers’ competition and constrain their cooperation. Some scholars even claim that the relationship is falling into a historical freeze or even a cold war. As the world’s largest developing country and largest developed country, whether China and the U.S. can handle their relationship could affect the future politics and economy of the globe.
Although strategic competition might still be a keyword in future China-U.S. relations, there is still much room for cooperation between the two countries, which should explore the possibilities of repairing the relations by rebuilding ties and strengthening cooperation on many important issues. In fact, the two sides have been communicating actively in several areas, such as global climate change, trade and finance, and philanthropy. But several cooperation areas have been stalled, as the climate change talks are suspended and the trade friction intensifies.
The two countries, however, have seen strengthened and deepened philanthropy cooperation ever since the outbreak of COVID-19. During the pandemic, many sister cities in the U.S. and China extended help to one another. Ron Nirenberg, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, said, “Members of our local community came together to assist our sister city Wuxi by raising funds to purchase needed supplies. Now, our sister city has turned around and offered assistance to our community, pledging a shipment of more than 30,000 masks.”
Not only civilians but also many companies contributed their efforts in combating the pandemic, especially some high-tech companies leveraging big data, artificial intelligence, and other cutting-edge technologies to help combat the spread of the virus. For example, Tencent launched a “Together We Can” global platform for healthcare information, an all-English medical information service that provides a health inquiry service, psychological support, and real-time pandemic report.
As COVID-19 puts global governance to a great test, philanthropy in China has stepped into a new period of development. According to the Annual Report on China’s Philanthropy Development (2022), by the end of 2021, the total number of social organizations in China was 900,900, up 0.73 percent compared with the same period of 2020, including 371,000 social groups, 521,000 social service institutions, and 8,885 foundations.
China’s philanthropy also presents new characteristics. The first is the diversification of communication channels. In the “Internet Plus” era, the channels and scopes to promote philanthropy projects are no longer strictly limited, and self-media, short videos, live-streaming platforms and instant-messaging tools increase promotional speed. In these ways, traditional philanthropy organizations could do their job with lower costs but wider coverage. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, allows every philanthropy project to be noticed by using specific information distribution technology. Tencent’s 99 Giving Day engages tens of millions of participants in just a few days every year through the integration of WeChat communities, small programs, and video accounts.
The second emerging feature of China’s philanthropy is the increasing use of technology for empowerment. Digital tools, especially blockchain technology, have been playing a significant role in driving the growth of philanthropy. As early as 2020, Tencent has already applied blockchain to tracking charity projects, making very good use of blockchain’s decentralization, openness, and traceability advantages. This ensures donation transparency and improves fundraising efficiency. When people donate on WeChat, they could be much more assured that their donations are actually being put to the stated use.
As China-U.S. relations fray, both countries should rise above differences and enhance cooperation on philanthropy. In the post-COVID-19 era, there are still many possibilities for cooperation in philanthropy between the two sides. Joan McEntee, former under secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, pointed out in the First Dialogue of the China-Europe-America Philanthropy Cooperation Initiative that, in face of the COVID-19 pandemic, cooperation on the issue of philanthropy offers the U.S., the EU, and China an important opportunity to strengthen their crucial relationship. How can we seize that opportunity?
First, both sides should continue philanthropy cooperation in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has taken millions of lives over the globe and the Omicron variant increases the difficulty of pandemic prevention. NGOs in both China and the U.S. should continue delivering humanitarian aid by supporting scientific research and transnational technology cooperation.
Second, both counties should develop charitable people-to-people exchanges. With cultural exchanges always playing an active role in China-U.S. relations, both sides should consider restarting or strengthening philanthropy exchange activities, such as the “Sino-American Charity Communication 3.0” project in the past.
Third, both should learn from each other in the technologies that empower philanthropy. Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and blockchain that are leveraged widely in charity work should be promoted for collaboration among governments, social organizations, media, and the public in building a “philanthropy for all” cause.