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What Being in Committee of 100 Next Generation Leadership Means to Me

I was recently accepted into the youth wing of an organization that I have known for much of my adult life. The group has its origins in the American architect, I.M. Pei (RIP), who organized a group of Chinese Americans into an advocacy organization, with its founding members including Yo-Yo Ma, I.M. Pei himself, Henry S. Tang, Oscar Tang, Chien Shiung Wu, and Shirley Young. The group has tackled two issues directly relevant to me: improving the most important bilateral relationship in the world, between the United States and China, and full civic participation of Chinese Americans in American society. In my professional work in biodiversity conservation, the relationship between the United States and China has had a significant impact on topics ranging from the application of wildlife products in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), endangered species conservation, wildlife trafficking, and global ecosystem health.

The controversial concept of the Thucydides trap has been applied to contemporary U.S.-China relations, where an emerging power’s rise threatens an existing great power and has a tendency towards war. Some of the greatest challenges that may lead to armed conflict between the two nations in the coming years stem from the competition over natural resources and the consequences of biosphere depletion. However, the rise of another power does not have to lead to conflict; it does not have to be a zero-sum game. Despite political, economic, and cultural differences, there is a level of coexistence and cooperation that can be obtained. One major example is the recent reaffirmation of the commitment to bilateral cooperation on addressing the global existential threat of climate change.1The United States and China are the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. It is Committee of 100’s role to mitigate misunderstandings that arise from these geopolitical and environmental risks, and I aim to work alongside current leadership who all strive for a peaceful future. The membership has the ability to build great projects to address critical ecological needs in a context often characterized by mistrust and competition.

In this way, it is my hope to share and act on insights that enhance how Committee of 100 approaches biodiversity and broader environmental issues. As part of my service project, I want to focus on addressing the gaps in ecosystem health monitoring and collaboration between the United States and Greater China. There is an increasing need to report species and ecosystem impacts required in new nature reporting requirements, such as the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), and the Science-based Targets Network (SBTN). This is particularly pronounced in regions in Asia where there is a substantial natural resource industry. It is my goal to help simplify these requirements for businesses and communities to engage in better decision-making and to build better relationships between American academics, companies and communities, and those in Greater China. By collaborating on improving standards that United States business has overall committed well to in conservation, the region can both teach and learn to markedly improve biodiversity outcomes.

This is all in the backdrop of being part of a minority in a country where there are subtle and not so subtle barriers to full participation in civil society, namely because of prejudice, language, or cultural frictions. This is particularly pronounced in an era where due to increasing geopolitical rivalry between the two countries, Americans of Chinese descent are caught in the middle and possibly viewed with increasing suspicion. This includes recently proposed and enacted state laws that ostensibly only ban Chinese citizens from purchasing property near sensitive sites but could easily devolve into broader discrimination.2The law in Florida was recently blocked by a U.S. federal court. There has been historical precedent for Sinophobia in the United States including a history of anti-Chinese legislation and questioning of Chinese American citizenship. With this background, any blanket bans on participation in certain segments of society need to be ruthlessly questioned. With Committee of 100’s tireless advocacy, I remain hopeful that, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

You normally don’t give race much thought and the way it impacts you when you are in the majority. A Chinese Singaporean friend had mentioned that there is a feeling of safety that comes when your race is the majority. It is a sense of privilege that I only began to understand once I lived in Singapore for a year for graduate school—and more recently for almost two months. As a Chinese American coming to a majority Han Chinese country, it was in one sense jarring3 Will expound on this in later writings. and also slightly familiar because of the strong Chinese cultural ties. For most of my life this has not been my lived experience. However, my time in Singapore gave me a better sense of what full civic participation looked like and how the Committee of 100 can approach one of its dual missions. I also found there was a lot to learn from this experience insofar as Committee of 100’s outreach to the broader overseas Chinese community.

I have grown up with many positive influences in my life. I remember doing a book report on I.M. Pei when I was 10 years old and at the suggestion of my parents, mailed it to him. Surprisingly, he wrote back with a very gracious letter.

A letter to the author as a young boy

This experience taught me the importance of acknowledging those who reach out to you, regardless of how influential you may be. It also underscored how even the most busy individuals can impact young lives by simply taking the time to respond. Honestly, it was from then on that I learned that actively reaching out to those who you want to get to know has nothing but upsides. The worst thing that can happen is they don’t get back to you. The best case is you get to interact with a kind soul that impacts you for a lifetime. What do you have to lose, really?

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