China and the United States should revive exchange programmes in areas such as health or even the media rather waiting for ties to improve from the top, diplomatic analysts suggested at an online conference in the US. Relations between the two countries have plummeted in recent years and personal bonds could go some way to repairing that relationship, they said, as Beijing and Washington wrestle over a range of issues from the South China Sea to Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Maria Repnikova, assistant professor in global communication at Georgia State University, told the forum hosted by the Carter Centre and the Guangzhou-based Intellisia Institute, that going back to the past was not realistic. “It is impossible to radically transform the atmosphere of mistrust ... neither [US President Joe] Biden nor [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] seem to be interested in that,” Repnikova said. “That’s why in the media sphere we should start with very modest and less-politicised measures.” She suggested that China and the US should allow a small group of reporters to continue their work in each other’s country, and also set up joint fellowship programmes for journalists. US designates 4 more Chinese media organisations as ‘state propaganda outlets’ Mabel Lu Miao, vice-president of the Centre for China and Globalisation, said the trust deficit between the two countries was greater than ever and now was a good time to revive exchanges. “Some scholar exchange programmes, such as the Fulbright Programme in mainland China, should be resumed,” Maio said. The US suspended its Fulbright Programme in mainland China and Hong Kong in June last year in response to Beijing’s introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong. NGOs were another area of potential cooperation, according to Jamie Horsley, a visiting fellow in the John L. Thornton China Centre at Brookings. In 2016, China introduce legislation restricting the work of foreign organisations and their local partners, affecting more than 7,000 international NGOs. “Many US non-governmental organisations have closed their offices in China ... but it’s important to get more Americans on China soil to gather personal experience,” Horsley said, adding that the US should also adopt a more friendly approach towards Chinese organisations on US soil too. Jeffrey Koplan, vice-president for global health at Emory University, said the universal need for better healthcare could be a good place to find common ground.