Last May, when I was in Beijing negotiating with my Chinese counterparts ahead of the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Chinese and American government officials interrupted our discussions to introduce a group of students from both countries who had been involved in an educational exchange.
This opinion piece by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell ran in Politico January 28, 2013.
“This is very inspirational,” one of my Chinese counterparts told me. “It reminds me of what is possible.”
I couldn’t agree more. Amid all of the challenges the U.S. and China face and the complex nature of our relationship, the 100,000 Strong Initiative brings a smile to the face of the most hardened interlocutor. The Initiative, launched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, has a very important goal: to enhance the U.S.-China strategic relationship through study abroad. The U.S. and China have many tense areas of negotiation, but both sides agree that people-to-people exchanges are a win-win.
American and Chinese youth are the gateway to stronger relations. And yet we must do more to encourage Americans to learn Mandarin and study in China. Our future, quite literally, depends on it.
When we invest in the U.S. relationship with China, we prepare more Americans to do business with the world’s second-largest economy, thereby expanding exports, building businesses and generating jobs. With more Americans understanding China, we will also strengthen our bilateral relations.
I believe strongly in these goals and so does the secretary, who last week hosted an event to celebrate the creation of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a new nonprofit, nonpartisan organization borne out of the 100,000 Strong Initiative she launched to generate greater demand, promote diversity and encourage support for programs to study in China and learn Mandarin here at home.
This challenge is essential to the next generation of Americans. The relationships created through U.S.-China study abroad will forever change our relationship. Of course, we will have our differences and — as with any partnership — we will face our challenges. But we must be able to talk to one another, understand each other and work together.
While working closely with Washington and Beijing to engage high-level government support for study abroad in China, the new 100,000 Strong Foundation will seek support from private companies, educational institutions and charitable, civic and professional organizations. Already, the Chinese government has generously offered 20,000 scholarships for U.S. students to study in China. The foundation is also receiving financial support from private-sector partners such as the Ford Foundation and the Florence Fang Family Foundation, which provided the seed money to get it off the ground.
Make no mistake: The need is urgent — and growing.
Global challenges from economic crises and climate change to nuclear proliferation and transnational crime cannot be solved without a strong U.S.-China relationship.
And these two global powers cannot work together unless we understand each other. Currently, there are 10 times more Chinese studying in the U.S. than there are Americans studying in China. And there are 600 times more Chinese who study English than Americans who study Mandarin. The number of young Chinese who are knowledgeable about American politics and popular culture is far greater than the number of young Americans who have even the faintest familiarity with how the Chinese live, do business and govern their society.
We must diversify as well as expand the number of Americans who know about China. As with other essential skills for succeeding in the global economy, opportunities to learn about China must be made available to a cross section of young Americans from every background and walk of life.
Americans who answer the call to learn about China will reap rewards. As the world’s second-largest economy, our second-largest trading partner and our third-largest export market, China should — and must — be of interest to any young American. With the world’s largest and fastest-growing middle class — more than 300 million consumers — China offers huge potential markets for American goods and services, from aerospace to telecommunications, information technology, entertainment and other products of our creativity and know-how.
Having marked the 40th anniversary of government-to-government ties between the U.S. and China, we both need to deepen and broaden our people’s understanding of each other. Classrooms and commerce — not conflict and confrontation — should define the future relationship between our two great nations.