Foreign Policy Blogs

Future U.S.-China Relationship Managers

Student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, China. (Image: Johns Hopkins University)

Student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, China. (Image: Johns Hopkins University)

“Much of the future of the world in the 21st Century will depend on how well China and the United States sustain growth in our own economies, manage our relationship with one another, and together address challenges facing the global economy.” These words were spoken last week by Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Robert D. Hormats, at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in Nanjing, China, to a student audience of future U.S.-China relationship managers. The importance of exposing future Sino-U.S. policy makers, relationship managers and leaders to the “other” cannot be underestimated. Last academic year, 2011/12, over 194,000 Chinese students were studying in the United States according to the International Institute of Education, getting exposure to US values, culture and style of governance. At a guess, it is feasible to predict that over one million Chinese students have studied in the United States since normalization of relations in 1979. In comparison, just over 15,500 U.S. students studied in China during 2010/11 according to the latest data available, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year.

Looking to the future, and the myriad of potential stumbling blocks, possible miscommunications, and unforeseen circumstances in Sino-U.S. relations, it is vital that both countries continue to invest in student exchanges, education and development of the next generation of relationship mangers. There is a lot to be said for mutual understanding, empathy with the other and human dialogue—ideally bilingually—within the realm of international relations. It is worth noting that Mahatma Gandhi was trained as a lawyer at University College London, an experience that no doubt put him in good stead in his future dealings with British authorities. It is also encouraging to know that today, now, there are U.S. students studying in China in programs such as the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. The HNC, in this author’s opinion, does deserve special mention as it is a unique program that is only open to graduate students, with classes taught in Chinese on subjects including Chinese History, Chinese Religion and Chinese Politics. This is a real opportunity to experience the other, though the teachings of the other.

In order for the U.S.-China relationship to truly be one of mutual benefit resulting in “win-win” results, as opposed to zero-sum, it is imperative that the individuals engaged in forming, shaping, developing and managing the relationship know what they are doing. Needless to say, this is easier said than done.  That is preciously why programs and partnerships—as in the case of the 25-plus-year Johns Hopkins University and Nanjing University venture—are so important. It would appear that  the administrations of new Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and re-elected U.S. president Barack Obama are already in agreement on this point. As Mr. Hormats explained to his audience last week,

“And there’s no better time to be here than just three weeks after Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping stated in his first speech that: ‘China needs to learn more about the world, and the world also needs to learn more about China. I hope you will continue to make efforts and contributions to deepening the mutual understanding between China and the countries of the world.’ Chairman’s Xi’s message is directed squarely at those of you in this room—the future leaders of the United States and China who will contribute to enhancing mutual understanding in the future.” [Italics added]

It is reassuring to know that those, who at times will asked and expected to carefully and diligently handle difficult and tense situations, will be well trained and equipped to do so as a result of having graduated from programs like those offered at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center.

  • Hannahmira

    I agree that it is time for both China and the U.S. take a mutual step in understanding one another, and what better way to do that than through education in the other’s country. Not only are students faced with learning a new language (I think that is fabulous.) and learning material from another perspective, but also with learning valuable lessons from peers of a very different background, yet who probably share extremely similar goals in life. That statistic about the one million Chinese students who come to study in the U.S. versus the 15,000 American students who study in China is certainly something to mention. On one hand, China does have a much larger population, so it makes sense that there would be more Chinese students coming to America. However, the gap between the two estimates is huge. And I think it’s possible that this stems, at least from
    America’s end, from a certain fear: the fear of America’s decline and China’s
    rise. This idea is discussed in Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book, Strategic Vision,
    which I’ve been reading for my International Relations class. He talks
    about the current power shift from the West to the East and how America is
    having a tough time accepting that. As a result of the U.S. having so much power for such a long time, perhaps we developed the mindset that learning about other cultures and people simply didn’t matter, as long as we were successful within our own system. It’s a very realist perspective, though I admit, somewhat ignorant too. I sincerely hope that we can get past this, and I think it is getting underway. While I happen to be learning French in school, my brother and many of my friends
    attend Mandarin class. In fact, I’ve heard that there is so much interest and
    so many students that the classes are becoming too large for a single teacher.
    Also in our high school alone, I’ve taken classes about the Pacific Rim, Eastern Religions, and now International Relations, all very well-liked classes. I believe this is an indication that the desire to understand other people, in this case, China, is very present. As the world continues to turn its eyes towards China, I think this interest in creating a better understanding will only grow.

    • Damien Tomins

      Thank you very much Hannahmira for your comments and thank you also for highlighting a shortcoming in this blog post. The figure that I give of 15,500 US students studying in China should read 14,500 and is only for one year, 2010/11. The figure of over one million Chinese students having studied in the United States goes back to 1979 and I am very confident that figure is correct! On a yearly comparison, for the 2011/12 academic year, 194,027 Chinese students were studying in the United States, and in the academic year 2010/11 (the latest data available), 14,596 US students studied in China. The source for these figures is the Institute of International Education: Thank you again for your comments and I wish you all the very best in your future studies.

  • Jack P

    Shared education is hopefully a fast-track to mutually beneficial Sino-American relations, and a shared improved appreciation for each other’s culture. As the world becomes less and less centralized around American cultural and ideological domination, the US will have to recognize the fact that, as other cultures attempt to learn and work with American culture, they will have to do the same for the cultures of other rising nations. Given the general xenophobia of China, the proportion between Chinese students traveling to the US over the reverse is slightly alarming, but as the reality of shared global power sets in, it can be expected that the US will take more steps towards becoming educated in the ways of others’ cultures, and incentivize cultural knowledge as being beneficial in American professions. Ultimately, a student population that is more tolerable, knowledgeable, and accepting of varied cultures, and better-equipped to handle multi-lateral issues that require involvement/mingling of many cultures will only be beneficial in a world grappling with increasing shared power and cultural diversity.

  • News

    Very well post, and really great topic.


Damien Tomkins
Damien Tomkins

Damien Tomkins works at the East-West Center office in Washington, D.C. on matters pertaining to the Asia-Pacific region. After traveling overland from Cape Town to Cairo in the 1990s he received a BA First Class Honours from the University of Wales in Anthropology and Religious Studies. He then lived and worked in China for two years teaching English with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). He subsequently received his MA degree in Asian international affairs from the School of International Service, American University. He enjoys working and learning about Asia and would like to further develop his career within the field of promoting a closer US-China relationship supported by mutual understanding and respect. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and not of any organization with which he is affiliated. Follow on Twitter: @tomkinsd