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China and U.S. Should Promote Expanded Youth Exchanges

Sep 14, 2016

(Co-authored by Zhai Kun and Wang Lina)

On Aug 18, the China-US Young Maker Competition, an event supportive of the 7th High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchanges, was successfully concluded in Beijing. Against the backdrop of a chaotic world situation and acute disagreements over the South China Sea, the competition offered a platform for young Chinese and Americans to exchange and share their wisdom, highlighting the significance of interaction among young people in cultural exchanges.

The young people, mainly those born between 1980 and 1995, are called the Millennial Generation or Generation Y. As population aging deepens, Generation Y in all Asia Pacific countries have started to show their talents in various industries. Riding the waves of information technology, people like the American Mark Zuckerberg and China’s Pony Ma have been hugely successful in entrepreneurship and innovation. These people have become young elites and gained a greater say in society. At the same time, Generation Y enjoys freer thinking and actively seeks channels of individual expressions. By following each other on social media, widely disseminating WeChat Moments, pursuing top trending searches and being anti-everything, they express views at social media sites or through apps including Facebook, Twitter, Weibo and WeChat. Generation Y is also more open-minded, inclusive, rational and objective. According to the 2015 Pew Research Center survey report, Americans ages 18-29 are more than twice as likely as those ages 50 or older to have a favorable opinion of China (55% vs. 27%). The same difference across age groups also exists in Chinese attitudes toward the US

Under such a circumstance, Asia Pacific countries must strengthen exchanges among their young people. But in this complex region of numerous countries and peoples, bilateral youth exchanges are not sufficient to satisfy the needs for multilateral cooperation and interaction. In this connection, China, the US and ASEAN should make efforts to develop multilateral exchange frameworks, cultivate common friends circles, and promote interaction and mutual following among their young people so that they will learn to praise rather than deprecate each other.

First, China, the US and ASEAN may promote the establishment of a multilateral young leaders’ summit to facilitate exchanges among young elites. Now exchanges between Chinese and American young political leaders, China’s Bridge Scholarships and America’s 100 000 Strong initiative are all important pillars of exchanges between high-end talents. In 2013, President Obama put forward the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). At the US-ASEAN summit in February 2016, Obama stressed the importance of youth exchanges again. Between China and ASEAN, such projects as Youth Cultural Exchange Forum, Education Exchange Week and China-Malaysia youth exchange summit on Confucianism and Islam are already very productive. However, these mechanisms are mostly bilateral, short of supporting multilateral interaction in Asia Pacific. In view of this, China and the US may consider pushing for the creation of a multilateral young leaders’ summit mechanism within the framework of the East Asian Summit for exchanges among young political leaders in the Asia Pacific. A young scholars’ roundtable mechanism can also be created to support the summit. The roundtable may help convene young scholars in Asia Pacific countries for themed discussions and policy communications.

Second, regional development strategies such as the Belt and Road Initiative, TPP and RCEP may serve as vehicles of interaction for young entrepreneurs and scholars. In the Asia Pacific region, strategies for coordinated and inclusive development across countries and in different areas must involve the participation of young entrepreneurs and scholars. The Belt and Road Initiative, in particular, involves many different aspects of economy. Young entrepreneurs with a pioneering and innovative spirit will definitely become implementers of the strategy. China and the US may develop exchanges among young entrepreneurs within the strategic frameworks of regional development to enhance their exchanges and communication.

Third, China and the US may develop common understanding and a concept of sharing through non-traditional security projects. Generation Y has grown up in an age of information explosion and attaches importance to communication of multiple perspectives. They pay greater attention of non-traditional security issues such as environmental protection, information security and financial security. The international cooperation in environmental protection in the 1990s represented a new model of youth exchanges between China and Japan, which increase mutual trust and favorable opinions between the young people and even general public in both countries. China, the US and ASEAN may take that as an example, develop multilateral exchanges of various themes and implement specific projects to cultivate a cooperation spirit and rational perceptions among young people.

Fourth, China and the US may build on lessons learned and speed up the implementation of various young student-exchange projects. Generation Y is now already the main force of the society. Generation Z, born in 1995 and later, is coming of age. Generation α, born in 2010 and later, will completely become a generation of technology. They will accept more global views on modern science and technology. The results and experiences of exchanges among Generation Y in China, the US and ASEAN must be carried forward from Y to Z and from Z to α, thus facilitating exchanges among Generation Z and among Generation α. A multi-country inter-school alliance may be developed as an international exchange program and inter-generational linkage so as to expand the width of cultural exchanges and extend the length of young people exchanges.

In short, youth will be the breakthrough factor for strengthened people-to-people exchanges between China, the US, ASEAN and other Asia Pacific countries. China and the US should seize the development opportunity in the coming 25 years to expand and strengthen young people’s friend circles in the Asia Pacific, thus enhancing mutual understanding among countries.

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