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Illuminate the Lamp of Wisdom and Light the Way Forward—Remarks by Chinese Ambassador to the United States Xie Feng at the Event Celebrating the 45th Anniversary of China-U.S. Student Exchanges and the Spring Festival Gala for Chinese and American Youths

(From Chinese Embassy in America)

2024-01-30 16:17

Jan 28, 2024

Mr. Erik Black,
Ms. Savannah Wallace,
Dr. Allan Goodman,
Dr. Fanta Aw,
Chairman Bob Holden,
President Madelyn Ross,
Vice President Terry Brown,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

Good evening!

Welcome to the Chinese Embassy to celebrate the 45th anniversary of China-U.S. student exchanges and the upcoming Chinese New Year.

Fourty-five years ago, the first batch of 52 students sent by the Chinese government flew across the Pacific to the United States. Upon their arrival, they told journalists that “We came all the way to the United States, not only to learn advanced science and technology, but also to promote the friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.” Today, we are honored to be joined by representatives of those 52 Chinese students, Americans who studied in China in the early 1980s, and American students who have just come back from China. Let’s salute all those who have witnessed, participated in and contributed to China-U.S. educational cooperation with a warm round of applause!   

Over the past 45 years, our educational cooperation has boomed rain or shine, leaving behind many beautiful stories, cultivating world-renowned scholars and leaders, and yielding research findings with far-reaching influence. Millions of students and families in both countries have benefited from it.

Educational cooperation epitomizes the win-win nature of China-U.S. relations. When looking back on the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic relations, President Jimmy Carter recalled that he was sleeping one day when the phone rang about 3 o’clock in the morning. It was Dr. Frank Press, his national science advisor who was visiting China. Dr. Press said that Mr. Deng Xiaoping asked if the U.S. side would accept 5,000 Chinese students to American universities. President Carter replied, “Tell him to send a hundred thousand.”

Today, there are nearly 290,000 Chinese students in the United States, accounting for about one-third of the total number of international students in the country. China has been the largest source of international students in the United States for 15 consecutive years. No one could have ever imagined that our educational cooperation would come such a long way. It has not only supplied a wealth of talents to China’s modernization drive and boosted U.S. economy and scientific development, but also contributed to human progress as a whole.

Educational cooperation demonstrates the openness and inclusiveness of the Chinese civilization. The Chinese civilization has been constantly enriched by drawing on the strengths of other civilizations, and educational cooperation is exactly an important part of China’s opening-up. Currently, China has over 1.3 million students studying abroad, the largest number among all countries, and there are around 1,500 jointly-run schools and international programs.

Knowledge should have no boundaries. Confucius advocated providing education for all without discrimination. Educator John Amos Comenius proposed “teaching everyone everything completely”. The ocean is vast because it admits all rivers. Likewise, scientific progress can only be achieved when the brightest minds are brought together. China has the world’s largest education system, and ranks first in human resources in science and technology and the total number of researchers. Our two countries have every reason to learn from each other and progress together, jointly push the boundaries of human knowledge, and find solutions to global challenges such as climate change, food security and artificial intelligence.

Educational cooperation has built bridges for mutual understanding and affinity between Chinese and American peoples. One of my American friends told me that his 8-year-old granddaughter spends two hours every day learning Chinese. At the Yenching Academy of Peking University, one of the compulsory courses is “China in Transformation”. American students in China not only learn about the country in the classroom, but also get to observe what it is truly like at a close distance. Signature programs of China-U.S. educational cooperation, such as the Wenzhou-Kean University, the Tianjin Juilliard School and the Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University, have all flourished.

From sending students to each other’s country to jointly running schools, from academic exchanges to research collaboration, our two countries have established an all-dimensional, multi-tiered and all-sectoral educational cooperation framework, nurturing mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples.

Dear friends,

Over the past 45 years, educational cooperation has always been a vivid example of our two peoples reaching out to each other, and one of the most productive areas of people-to-people exchanges. It has also laid a solid foundation for the stable development of the overall bilateral relationship. Although it has come under headwinds in recent years, the aspiration of both peoples for mutual understanding and learning remains unstoppable, and those supporting China-U.S. educational cooperation have never been absent. 

We are heartened to see that many leading universities in the United States have spoken out against witch hunt against scientists of Chinese origin, more than 40 organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Congress to oppose reinstating the so-called “China Initiative”, and educational institutions of both countries co-hosted the China-U.S. Higher Education Dialogue, calling for building confidence and jointly addressing challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To usher in another 45 years, we need to stay true to our original commitment, take educational cooperation to new heights despite all the difficulties, and find the right answers to three questions critical to China-U.S. relations in the new era.

First, the question of the century as to what is the right way for China and the United States to get along. Forestalling major-country conflict or confrontation is a constant endeavor of the international community. Whether China and the United States can properly handle their relations bears on the future of humanity.

The successful summit meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden in San Francisco has added stability to the China-U.S. relationship and fostered a future-oriented “San Francisco vision”. Mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation should be the direction both countries follow.

We hope that educational cooperation will continue to set the pace for China-U.S. relations, go beyond the Cold-war mentality and the obsession with fighting over the existing turf, and pool Eastern and Western wisdom together to seek common ground while reserving differences. We hope it will encourage the two countries to open up new arenas of cooperation such as digital economy and green and low-carbon growth, and help the two countries find the right way to get along in the new era.

Second, the question from our peoples as to how to clear obstacles to educational exchanges. The dynamism of thought springs from mutual learning, and scientific progress would be impossible without exchanges. But while the chilling effect of the “China Initiative” is still lingering on, the state of Florida recently rolled out a new law blocking Chinese researchers from labs of public universities.

Also, dozens of Chinese arriving in the United States, including students, were denied entry every month for the past few months. They held valid visas, had no criminal records, and were returning to school after travelling elsewhere or reuniting with their family in China. But when they landed at the airport, what awaited them was 8-hour-long interrogation by officers, who prohibited them from contacting their parents, made groundless accusations against them, and even forcibly repatriated them and banned their entry. This is absolutely unacceptable. The Chinese side immediately expressed its firm opposition to the U.S. side. We will continue to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.

Studying abroad is a big decision that costs much money and energy. Politicizing and manipulating educational cooperation will not only prevent the students from chasing their dreams and force them to change their life plans, but also drain the talent pool of the United States, poison its research environment and chill innovation. If normal people-to-people exchanges are cut off, how can the two major countries maintain and develop their relations?

Third, the question of the times as to how to renew the friendship between our youths. The youth are the future. When the younger generations get along well with each other, there will be hope for China-U.S. relations. In this regard, every university can be a bridge, and every student a window. When the over 7,000 universities and over 65 million students of our two countries pitch in together, they will forge an unbreakable bond of goodwill, and inject a powerful impetus into people-to-people exchanges.

Some American friends may be concerned about the relatively small number of American students in China. But China never seeks a “student surplus”. We are firmly against any decoupling in education, and are committed to increasing youth exchanges with concrete actions.

I am happy to share with you some good news: to implement the initiative announced by President Xi in San Francisco of inviting 50,000 young Americans to China on exchange and study programs in the next five years, China will set up a YES program — the Young Envoys Scholarship, and encourage diverse forms of cooperation, such as exchange programs between schools, short visits, summer schools and winter camps. We welcome more young friends from the United States to see China with your own eyes, travel the expanse of the country with your own feet, and become the new generation of envoys of friendship between our two countries.

Dear friends,

As a Chinese saying goes, “It takes ten years to grow trees, and a hundred years to cultivate talents.” How we view and conduct educational exchanges and cooperation today will shape China-U.S. relations in a significant way. President Xi stressed that the hope of the China-U.S. relationship lies in the people, and its future depends on the youth.

Young people like you are known for your enthusiasm, courage, imagination and creativity. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to seize opportunities, explore possibilities, and make as many friends as you can, so as to both fulfill yourselves through educational cooperation and give a strong boost to the sustained growth of China-U.S. relations.

The upcoming Chinese New Year will be the Year of the Dragon. Dragon is a symbol of auspiciousness, vitality and prosperity. May all of you soar with the spirit of dragon and embrace a brighter future. Let’s together usher in a Year of the Dragon brimming with vigor and hope, and write a new chapter in China-U.S. educational exchanges and cooperation!

Thank you very much.

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