Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Town Hall, A Wall, Opportunity for All

There is a saying in Cantonese, that when you cross the ocean you will be kings. [ed. note: I have looked all over the internet and not found the Cantonese phrase, so any help would be appreciated]

President Barack Obama was either a puppet or a truly naive country mouse making his way through China and East Asia for the first time earlier this month, when he held a staged town hall, visited the Great Wall and seemed disoriented, and claimed that he never touched Twitter, even though he apparently has his own twitter feed.

For America's first "Pacific" president, he didn't seem to know a whole lot about China, America's certainly largest, and relatively speaking nearest neighbor, if you don't count the Philippines, Russia or Taiwan.

Much has already been written about what a fool's game the whole diplomatic trip to East Asia appeared to the rest of the world. I won't hash over it. Read through the link if you like.

However, Obama presented one gleaming and golden opportunity for America's youth, for-profit education and the future of China - U.S. bilateral relations and the possible creation of a new multilateral regulatory and financial system.

China and the United States agreed that they would renew efforts to bring at least 100,000 students from the United States to China. Currently, there are only 20,000 American students studying in China while there are nearly 100,000 Chinese students in the United States, and nearly 100,000 students from India studying in the United States.

I'm sure the effort was started in the hopes that these students would bring all the democracy and hope and glory back with them to their countries of origin. So why don't we send more students to China?

Do they just not want to go? Are they unable to go, because of finances? How is the government going to pay for these expected 80,000 students to go to China? Does the federal loans program enable that right now? I don't think it does.

Efforts have been made to extend this cross-cultural partnership before. I am a by-product of one of those efforts. So is 27 - year old Cornelius Rahn, a journalism student at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre.

The vision there is simple: train foreign students to be journalists in China. Introduce them to China, spread the word about China, help China at the same time enrich and develop its burgeoning media.

Ying Chan, a celebrated investigative journalist, who has won many awards for her reporting, especially on the snakeheads that traffic humans into the United States from China, laid out this vision several years ago and has been steadily building on it. She not only directs the program in Hong Kong, she also, with backing from Li Ka-shing, helps run his journalism school at Shantou University in mainland China.

Ying always says, "Learn Chinese. The future is in China." I never doubt her. "Understand China," she also says. And she is right. Obama's trip to China shows the perils of not knowing the people you should and could be doing business and politics with.

Why did people pay Chinese snakeheads thousands of dollars to travel illegally and covertly to America? There was opportunity there. For some it was to be forever. For others, as China began to open up, it was temporary. Take what is best in America and bring it back. They call these people Sea Turtles, in Chinese.

But now, the future is going to be shaped by a strong China and US relationship, which could produce a much stronger multilateral global financial system.

As I always say, it's already tomorrow in China. And it started out as a joke.

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