Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Investing in US-China Relations, One Student at a Time

President John F Kennedy was the commencement speaker at American University in Washington, DC in June 1963 where he asked “what kind of peace do I mean and what kind of peace do we seek?”  Back then he was talking about a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union but today, 50 years after his death, a diverse group of 300+ thought leaders and students gathered at American University united in their belief that long term cooperation and peace will be achieved through our youth.

Four years ago, President Obama and then-United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the “100,000 Strong Initiative” with a goal of sending 100,000 United States students to study in China by 2014.  The 100,000 Strong Foundation was officially launched in January 2013, as an independent, non profit organization housed at American University’s School of International Service, to strengthen US-China relations through study abroad and Mandarin language learning. Carola McGiffert is President of the Foundation and heading this laudable international cooperation exchange.

According to USAToday (11/17/13 “US and China strengthen bonds people-to-people” by Vice Premier Liu Yandong) there are 235,000 Chinese students studying in America and 68,000 American students studying in China thanks in large part to the “100,000 Strong Initiative.”

Florence Fang, prominent Californian and Chairwoman of the Florence Fang Family Foundation, is a founding supporter of The 100,000 Strong Foundation and escorted the Honorable Liu Yandong, Vice Premier of China to the podium where Premier Liu stressed the importance of people to people exchanges and relayed the story of a young man from China who attended university in Iowa 28 years ago and happily returned to Iowa to meet his old friends during his first official visit to the United States as the President of China …Xi Jinping.

China is the #2 economy in the world and the #1 trading partner to the United States so our countries are inextricably intertwined. Newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State Daniel R. Russel advised the audience “to learn how the world works by meeting people and studying/learning a language …which gives a window into the thinking and culture of another country to find areas of convergence and divergence; Diplomacy begins by understanding yourself and others; the Enemy is Ignorance.”

“Moving forward, we look to the people and the leadership of our two countries and strongly believe, as the others here today, that exchange initiatives among students and/or working adults can only benefit the ongoing collaboration and long term success in our global village,” stated Steven Ma, Commissioner/Secretary of the State of California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs.

Throughout the conference, it was amazing to hear all the young people speaking Mandarin to each other. A group of 7 thoughtful, articulate and diverse Chinese and American students shared their cross cultural experiences living in a different country, sharing prior biases, dispelling stereotypes and what they learned. They all believe in “Hope” for a better global future by working together, developing trust, and a realization that “those people” have very similar interests and goals.