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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Opening of the Second Annual U.S.-China Consultation on People-To-People Exchange

Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Washington, DC
April 11, 2011


Good morning everyone. It’s an honor to welcome you to the State Department for the second meeting of the U.S.-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange.

I am delighted to be joined again by Vice Minister Hao and all our distinguished guests from the People’s Republic of China. Last year in Beijing we set the stage to expand and deepen the great partnership between our countries at every level, and I am looking forward to seeing all the new ideas and opportunities we will explore over the next few days.

Earlier this year, during President Hu’s state visit, the First Lady hosted an event at Howard University to highlight the 100,000 Strong Initiative. This is one of the Obama Administration’s key commitments to increase the number of American students studying in China. And one of the young men who spoke – David, a student at Pepperdine University in California – told a story from his experience that really illustrates what meetings like this are all about.

David arrived to study in China on a State Department-sponsored Gilman Scholarship. He knew very little about the language, and he admits to being a naturally shy person. But one night, over a plate of chicken fried noodles at a restaurant near his housing, David learned a little bit about our universal ability to communicate.

One of the chefs at the restaurant was a young man, about David’s age, with a laptop. Out of nowhere, the young man turned to David and said “come here, come here.” So David approached, a bit hesitantly, to see what he wanted.

The young Chinese man opened his media player, hit play, and began singing California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & The Papas – in English. To David. And he wanted David to sing along. As David tells it, “I knew that a great friendship would start during the first few weeks of my time in China.”

We are here today to help make more stories like David’s with that young Chinese chef possible. Because when we look beyond outward stumbling blocks and conquer our inhibitions, we recognize the kindred spirit that exists between people in every part of the world. And these connections support our ability to work together on every other foreign policy objective we share.

This is not a new or revolutionary idea. When former Secretary of State Cordell Hull outlined his pillars of enduring peace in 1936, second among them was a commitment to promoting what we today call people-to-people connections. In his words, “Collaboration and the exchange of views, ideas, and information are the most effective means of establishing understanding, friendship, and trust… any written pacts or agreements not based upon such relationships as these too often exist on paper only.”

The partnership between China and the United States is too important to exist on paper only. It needs to exist in a very real way to people in markets and schools and labs and noodle shops across both our nations. Only then can we make progress on any of the global challenges that will require our cooperation and explore the untold opportunities of this new age.

People-to-people connections are built on the free exchange of ideas and honest interactions between individual citizens. Governments are responsible for creating an environment in which these exchanges can happen in good faith. But when human rights activists and intellectuals and artists fear arbitrary arrest or forced detention, or when education and cultural programs are abruptly canceled as a sign of displeasure, that good faith is undermined, and all the positive momentum our nations have built is slowed. Creating lasting bonds between our people starts with protecting the freedoms and the dignity of every human being. And upholding these universal rights will ultimately make every nation, including China and the United States, more prosperous and more successful.

So I am pleased that we will be able to dig in to each of our working group areas and find ways to enhance opportunities for meaningful engagement between our people. And to have honest discussions about the challenges that hinder our cooperation on both sides. Over the next two days, we can seek shared solutions to these obstacles. And we can find innovative opportunities to build new avenues of understanding. These developments will help knit our nations more closely together for generations to come.

So I’d like to briefly outline some of the goals I hope we can make progress on so that we all return home with a heavy to-do list for the coming year.

First, we can define more ways to strengthen the vital relationship between China and the United States in education. Today, we have almost 130,000 Chinese students studying across the United States, more than from any other country in the world. And China has become the most popular destination outside of Europe for American students studying abroad. But we must do more.

I already mentioned our 100,000 Strong Initiative and the high-level of support it has received from both our governments. We look forward to using this initiative to expand opportunities for more Americans to study in China.

We also look forward to building on our flagship binational exchange, the U.S.-China Fulbright Program. For example, our bureau of Educational and Cultural Exchange is interested in sponsoring a pilot program to bring more Chinese students to pursue master's degrees at top-level graduate programs in the United States.

And we want to push our engagement out to more people and beyond four-year universities as well. We can do more with our network of community colleges and vocational schools to teach specialized skills and prepare our students for jobs in a high-tech, green economy.

Our Departments of Education are working together to develop best practices and standards for science and technical education. Together, we can discover better ways to bring science class alive for children from kindergarten on, and inspire a lifelong passion for scientific achievement.

And we can do more with our Friendship Volunteers program to build relationships between Chinese students and our American volunteers. We recently concluded a review of the program and learned how much Chinese students and teachers alike value Friendship Volunteers for their dedication and assistance with English-language learning. So we are eager to explore opportunities to broaden placement and strengthen this valuable program.

The second way we hope to expand our people-to-people exchanges is through cultural and sports diplomacy. These are areas where we can do the most to reach out to young audiences and underserved populations we might not otherwise be able to engage. These are also areas where speaking the same language is not required in order to understand how much we have in common. Music and art and spirited competition need no translation.

We hope to pursue new opportunities for communication between organizations that promote cultural exchanges in the United States and China. To develop new ways for our museum curators and librarians to share their experiences as stewards of our national heritages. And to turn our mutual appreciation for athletic achievement into mutual respect for the unique history and culture of our countries.

We can explore the best ways to encourage young people to reap the physical and personal benefits of active lifestyles with exchanges of athletes and their coaches at every level, from professional athletes to youth teams. Earlier this year we brought a group of physical education teachers and youth basketball coaches from China to meet with their peers in Washington and Los Angeles. They shared their experiences and ideas with one another and took away new insights about the special opportunities for teaching and motivating young athletes.

Science and technology is a third area where we are working together to find new ideas and innovations that will help people in China and the United States meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century and beyond.

We already know how important international collaboration is to advancing our scientific pursuits. Researchers need other rigorous minds to help them gather data and refine hypotheses. We have relationships between more than 30 government offices and countless individual universities and laboratories. We work together on everything from performing cutting edge energy research to preserving natural habitats for the giant panda.

But even in an area where so much is happening, we must endeavor to promote an environment where scientific engagement touches young people outside the lab. Where new ideas and fresh insights are encouraged and explored. We want to inspire a new generation of scientists and use the new tools at our disposal to connect burgeoning minds throughout China and the United States.

Finally, I am pleased that we have added a new thematic area for this second Consultation on People-to-People Exchange to focus on women’s issues. As we all know, these issues are very near to a lot of our hearts, especially Secretary Clinton. During last year’s CPE, she proposed to State Councilor Liu that we develop a way to connect women leaders and facilitate collaboration between Chinese and American women. And after months of work, tomorrow Secretary Clinton and State Councilor Liu will announce the U.S.-China Women’s Leadership Exchange and Dialogue to do just that.

So we are making progress on all of these fronts. On some we are making progress very quickly, and on others we have a great deal more work to do. I encourage all of our thematic working groups to spend the day thinking creatively and presenting ideas for open, honest discussion. No suggestion is too small or too different to be heard. There are no boundaries on inspiration. If you have an innovative new way for our countries to work together, we want to know about it. Together, we will roll up our sleeves and turn acorns of ideas into mighty oaks of cooperation that can weather both time and distance.

Our people need to know more about the relationship between China and the United States. While there may be differences between our governments, they need to know about the warmth and openness of our two peoples. About the depth and diversity of our cultures. About the pride we feel and the appreciation we have toward our mutual responsibilities to the world and to each other.

We can tell them. But it is so much better when they tell each other.

Thank you.

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