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Building World-Class Educational Bridges With China: Why It Matters

May 02 , 2013

 A true game changer took place recently with a bang that was reminiscent of Napoleon’s famous quote, “Let China sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world.” 

Tom Watkins

The big bang was an announcement by American financier Stephen A. Schwarzman’s, founder of private equity firm Blackstone, that he is establishing an international scholarship program in China endowed with $300 million (¥1.8 billion).  The program is the largest-ever internationally funded philanthropic effort in China’s history soon to support 200 scholars a year for study in China.  Forty-five percent of the students will hail from the United States; another 20 percent will come from China with the remaining students representing Europe, South Korea, Japan, and India.

The 21st century Schwartzman Endowment emulates the world famous Rhodes Scholarship program established in 1902.

The New York Times reported “The program’s creation underlines the tremendous importance of China and its market to Wall Street financiers and corporate leaders, who have become increasingly anxious as security and economic frictions grow between China and the West … a third of the endowment comes from Mr. Schwarzman’s personal fortune, a third comes from donors and the remaining $100 million is expected to be raised by the end of this year.”  

Clearly the center of the economic and geo-political world is shifting in China’s direction and these scholarships to study in and around China bodes well not only for China but for all humanity. 

In making his announcement, Schwarzman said, “When Cecil J. Rhodes created the Rhodes Scholarship program in 1902 to promote international understanding, Europe was at the center of gravity for the world’s economy, and the United States, the British Empire, and Germany were the world’s most influential global players.  While the 20th century was defined by U.S. ties to Europe, there is no question that the nature of China’s international relationships will play at least as important a role in this century. 

The Schwarzman Scholars Program will be domiciled at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China’s premiere university, and dedicated to academic excellence and integrity, with interaction between Chinese and Western cultures.

Far too many in the West are dangerously ignorant about China’s history, language, government, culture and language. This program jump-starts the process to begin addressing this issue.

Schwarzman reasons, “For the West, this means developing a far richer and more nuanced understanding of China’s social, political and economic context.  A win-win relationship of mutual respect between the West and China is vital, benefiting Asia and the rest of the world, and enhancing economic ties that could lead to a new era of mutual prosperity. Adding, “Leveraging the world-class resources and talented people at Tsinghua University, the program will bring together an exceptional group of students who, we hope, will one day have the power to change the course of history.” 

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

Bringing some of the worlds best young minds together provides the ingredients for truly changing the world. 

Yet the Schwarzman Scholars Program does not have to wait until the first class commences in 2016 to tap great minds. The Advisory Board assembled for this initiative is world-class and includes: 

* Nicolas Sarkozy, Former President of the French Republic (Honorary);

* Anthony “Tony” Blair, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Honorary);

* Brian Mulroney, Former Prime Minister of Canada (Honorary);

* Kevin Rudd, Former Prime Minister of Australia (Honorary);

* Tung CheeHwa, Vice Chairman of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (Honorary);

* Henry Kissinger, 56th United States Secretary of State (Honorary);

* Colin Powell, 65th United States * Secretary of State (Honorary);

* Condoleezza Rice, 66th United States Secretary of State (Honorary);

* Henry “Hank” Paulson, 74th United States Secretary of the Treasury (Honorary);

* Robert “Bob” Rubin, 70th United States Secretary of the Treasury, Co-Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations (Honorary);

* Sir James “Jim” Wolfensohn, 9th President of the World Bank Group (Honorary);

* Richard Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations (Honorary);

* Richard “Rick” Levin, President of Yale University (Honorary);

* Richard Brodhead, President, Duke University (Honorary);

*Chen Ning Yang, Nobel Laureate and Honorary Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Tsinghua University (Honorary);

* John Thornton, Chairman of the Brookings Institution and Professor and Director of Global Leadership at Tsinghua University (Honorary);

* Yo-Yo Ma, the renowned American cellist (Honorary); 

* Iain Conn, Managing Director, BP plc.  

The Schwarzman Scholars plans a choice of four academic disciplines: Public Policy, International Relations, Economics & Business and Engineering.  Additional disciplines will be added in future years.  Schwarzman Scholars will support 200 students annually for a one-year Master’s program at Tsinghua University under the direction of Dean David Daokui Li, a prominent Chinese economist and former member of China’s currency board.  Students will live in Beijing for a year of study and cultural immersion, attending lectures by heads of state, traveling throughout the country, and developing a true understanding of China. 

Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China grasped the power of this initiative when he said, “The Schwarzman Scholars program will help the United States and China strengthen ties in all aspects of our bilateral relationship by deepening mutual understanding between both countries, and by creating the interpersonal connections from which a shared vision of future engagement and cooperation can emerge.”

Old “China Hand” Kissinger said, China is “one of the central challenges of our time” and “we need to forge a deeper understanding between the U.S. and China.”

Why does it matter? When Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first premier and described in a book of his name as “The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World”, was asked if Chinese leaders were serious about displacing the U.S. as the number one power in Asia he responded, “Of course.” He continued, “Ours is a culture of 4,000 years with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent – a huge and very talented pool to draw from.  How could they not aspire to be number 1 in Asia, and in time the world?”

Pressing The Idea Into Lower Levels

The world needs to know and understand China.

What is needed now is another philanthropist to step forward and drive this concept down from the prestigious university level to begin laying the foundation for funding global middle and high school students to study in China for extended periods of time. Funding a series of international boarding schools for Chinese and Western students to live, study and learn together would create an educational supply chain of global students and will lay a strong foundation for enhancing the relationship between China and the world.

It is important that we constantly seek ways to build cultural, educational, economic and people-to-people bridges between China and the United States as we hold the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century in our collective hands, impacting our respective citizens and all of humanity. 

Perhaps C H Tung, a member of the Schwarzman Scholars  Program Board of Advisors and Chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation made the point of the value of understanding our respective histories, culture, language and governance structures best when he addressed the West Point Academy on April 12, 2012, “Building strategic mutual trust is about reaching a comprehensive and accurate understanding of each other’s path of development, strategic intention and foreign policy, it is also about each other’s history, culture and values. Developing trust takes understanding, and developing understanding takes an active commitment to listening to and respecting each other’s goals and needs. To achieve this, exchanges and dialogues are very important.”

The Stephen A. Schwarzman’s International Scholarship Program with its $300 million (¥1.8 billion) investment is one fine bridge. But before this bridge is completed, will someone step forward to fund the international middle and high school span?

Tom Watkins serves on the University of Michigan Confucius Institute board of advisors and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation international advisory board.  He is the former Michigan state superintendent of schools, president and CEO of the economic council of Palm Beach County, FL. and is currently a U.S./China business and educational consultant.

 

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