Strait Talk: Tripartite Dialogue
Peace. Everyone wants peace. The ways to go about making peace however are up for grabs, whether it would be through war, dialogue, or a mixture of both. Strait Talk has been trying to make headway in peace through dialogue to solve the Taiwan issue.
Founded at Brown University in 2005 in the wake of the Anti-Secession Law, Strait Talk is a week-long intensive session that puts the three main participants of the conflict (US, China, Taiwan/ROC) in face-to-face dialogue. Dialogue is emphasized instead of negotiations since negotiations implies a winner-loser relationship.The agenda of the session is up to the attendees themselves; Strait Talk at heart is space for an open forum set upon neutral grounds. The attendees (15 people in total, 5 per side, called “delegates” since they come representing their region) come together and discuss both problems and possible solutions, culminating in a consensus document that everyone agrees on. The document is the product from the 40 some-hour discussion on identifying problems and how to solve them.
In order to bring the issues to light and to help make connections that would help create solutions, Strait Talk operates on the concept of Interactive Conflict Resolution (ICR). Like the name, the concept uses confidence-building activities to help participants bond together to better reach a mutual consensus. Activities such as making a history timeline, devising ways to make the most use out of an object, and roleplaying allows other delegates to better understand how each side saw the issue. The facilitator (or mediators as duo-facilitators are encouraged at times) in the ICR constantly analyzes the conversation to maintain the flow of constructive dialogue while keeping the peace.
The dialogue’s focus is towards understanding what each side saw as their basic human needs, the “core”, and trying to address those needs in a mutually beneficial fashion for all. On a reflective note, important concepts such as “radical empathy” or to be in one’s shoes that you would not ordinarily associate with, were highly emphasized to create the means of dialogue. Terms such as “zoom in, zoom out” and “orange-it” would also be used to further show ways of analyzing issues to help make each attendee a facilitator in their own capacity.
Ten years since its creation, Strait Talk is now being held at Brown University, UC Berkeley, Taipei, and Hong Kong annually. Involving dialogue sessions and several panels with experts on the issue, the organization seeks to “inspire and equip the current generation of students to seek common ground and build trust across the conflict divide as they ascend to positions of influence in the future.” Co-founder Johnny Lin noted that most conversations about the Taiwan issue were argumentative and one-sided instead of being constructive by seeing what other parties think. In his perspective, honest dialogue was needed to break this tradition. Any dialogue, even if it was just amongst young private citizens, was better than none. The differences between each Strait Talk location are the parties represented. While locations in the United States has Taiwan, China, and US representation, symposiums in Hong Kong or Taiwan do not have US representation to provide discussions in Mandarin, a common ground that Taiwan and China are able to meet at. More specifically, Hong Kong has Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong while cross-Strait businessmen representation replaces Hong Kong in the Taiwan location.
In 2014, two of our team members were able to attend the 10th annual Strait Talk at Brown University. The nature of these symposiums are private discussions so we are unable to report the happenings of the talks. Despite this limitation, we can say that it was a great opportunity to get multiple perspectives. We would like to thank the delegates, Tatsushi Arai (facilitator of the US based Strait Talk for 10 years) and the Strait Talk organizers for continuing this effort to increase dialogue.
The following links provide more information about Strait Talk, including praise and discussions about the experience:
Strait Talk Parent Website: http://straittalk.org/
Strait Talk Brown: http://www.straittalkbrown.com/
Strait Talk Berkeley: http://straittalkberkeley.weebly.com/
Strait Talk Hong Kong: http://www.straittalkhk.org
Strait Talk Taipei: https://www.facebook.com/StraitTalkTaipei
An article about Strait Talk which contains statements made by attendees: http://www.asianweek.com/2009/04/22/straight-talk-from-strait-talk/