Youth Perspectives

How the next generation can be a bridge between China and the world

Young Global Leaders can act as a bridge over shifting geopolitical terrain.

Young Global Leaders can act as a bridge over shifting geopolitical terrain. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Miao Sun
Community Lead, Greater China and North Asia, Foundations, World Economic Forum
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  • In an increasingly fragmented world, mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world is vital.
  • The pandemic widened gaps between nations and people, furthering this sense of dislocation.
  • Young Global Leaders can play a part in forging the trust necessary for global development and international collaboration.

Today's world faces unprecedented fragmentation. Issues such as global economic recession, energy crisis, climate change and geopolitics are directly or indirectly affecting people's lives to an alarming degree. Faced with this ominous landscape, the younger generation is particularly hard hit in the way that they are losing the open and trusting world brought about by globalization.

At the same time, the responsibilities on the younger generation’s shoulders are becoming more and more important. They are eager to play their part in initiating and engaging in dialogues that can build trust. During the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2023 in Tianjin in June, the World Economic Forum brought together 94 Young Global Leaders from all over the world to exchange their perspectives on technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, as well as on China in the global context, under the theme of Entrepreneurship: The Driving Force of the Global Economy.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the way countries interact with one another, particularly between China and the rest of the world; according to a recent survey, unfavourable views of China have increased substantially in many high-income countries since. Understanding China, especially in the post-pandemic context, is more critical than ever. Young Global Leaders (YGLs) are at the forefront of these efforts, in order to promote global development and international collaboration.

Bridging misunderstandings

For many China-based YGLs, the COVID-19 has not only reshaped their pandemic preparedness, but also posed huge challenges to their personal and professional lives. Imagine long-distance relationships without seeing each other, or important business partners lacking in-person interactions. As the fabric of daily life was eroded by remote working, it further weakened the dynamics necessary for trusted relationships.

The mistrust caused by COVID-19 has already translated from micro level to macro level. Increased tension between the US and China is among the top geopolitical risks of 2023, and has a considerable impact on the global economy. Any disruption in the trade relationship between these two superpower nations affects everyone. While the pandemic might have continued a trend of hostility between them, it heralded a new diplomatic era between China and the European Union, rooted more in long-term strategy rather than immediate mutual trade cooperation.


One critical leadership skill is how to bridge gaps that lead to misunderstandings between different cultures. The YGLs at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2023 were keen to become the ambassadors for cultural bridges between China and the rest of the world. There are many misunderstandings that can only be healed through person-to-person interactions and exchange, and the YGL community is a platform for such interactions. It provides a peer-to-peer level playing field and aims to unite the young generation of leaders from all stakeholder groups in order to generate impact.

However, it requires extra effort nowadays since the world is only getting more fragmented. To use a vivid metaphor of one YGL: “The bridges are still here, but the grounds are shifting.” How to create common ground in such circumstances is something many YGLs will give serious consideration to in future.

The importance of patient dialogue

Mistrust can potentially cause lasting damage to the possibility of future co-operation, as deception is incompatible with trusting relationships. Nowadays, people are extremely frustrated by rising nationalism, populism and economic downsizing. The sentiments of deglobalization, as expressed in inflammatory media headlines and political posturing, continues to disincentivize dialogue and efforts to rebuild trust.

The dialogue process is not always calm and polite; sometimes it has to start with getting the emotions out. It is important to know that it is fine to take some time for the involved parties to let their anger and frustrations out first, and come back to the table and discuss the way forward. We need to account for different sensibilities and plant the seeds of rationale agreement into the dialogue process.

Dialogue takes time. It demands patience, passion and long-term vision. In the times of rapid information explosion, dialogue must be established with both space and time to bring about changes with positive impact.

In the recent IMF World Economic Outlook, the global economy is slowing down, with growth projected at 3% in 2023 and 2024. China’s growth is estimated at 5.2% in 2023 and 4.5% in 2024, but is also decelerating. Geo-economic fragmentation could undermine this further.

From an economic perspective, the world economy is interdependent. Dialogue helps facilitate mutual understanding and raise confidence, which are prerequisites for international co-operation. Amid widespread frustration, there are many things that require urgent fixes.


What is a YGL?

However, we cannot only focus on the problems, but the solutions. We must identify the problems and communicate how to fix it together, with confidence. The young generation of leaders can play a vital role in sending the right message out and continuing to build bridges on shifting grounds.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Youth PerspectivesGeographies in DepthGlobal Cooperation
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