As Hu Jintao and Barack Obama, leaders of the world's two greatest economic powers USA and China met in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to discuss a range of issues from currency revaluation to human rights, on the sidelines of the political dialogue first lady Michelle Obama focused on educational cooperation as a means of bringing the two countries closer.
In support of the President's 100,000 Strong Initiative, Mrs. Obama spoke to more than a thousand young people from public, private and parochial schools, colleges and universities in the Washington DC area and urged them to study in China, saying that this would not only make them more competitive in the global economy but would also lead to deep cultural relationships with their peers in China and thus create a mutual understanding around the world.
In a release from the White House, Michelle Obama was quoted as saying, Studying in countries like China isn't only about your prospects in the global marketplace. It's not just about whether you can compete with your peers in other countries to make America stronger. It's also about whether you can come together, and work together with them to make our world stronger... That's why it is so important for more of our young people to live and study in each other's countries - because that's how you develop that habit of cooperation.
The initiative was announced by President Obama during his visit to China in 2009. Since then the US has been working actively with counterparts in China to implement this 4-year program which aims to bring 100,000 Americans to study in that country by 2014, including those from the usually under-represented groups such as minorities and community college students.
On the current occasion of President Jintao's visit, Mrs. Obama also announced more than $2.25 million in private sector pledges in support of the initiative's goal. These included $1 million pledges by both Caterpillar Inc. and Citigroup, and $100,000 pledges by Motorola Solutions Foundation and the U.S.-China Education Trust (USCET). She also highlighted a host of other measures taken to give a boost to the initiative in question.
With the rise of China as the world's dominant economic engine, there has been a growing realization in the United States about the importance of academic exchange with China as a means of boosting the competitiveness of American students. The recent OECD assessments under PISA where Chinese high school students consistently outshone their American peers by large margins in reading, math and science have further heightened that perception.
The President himself has made allusions to the importance of Americans retaining their role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation, and how that would require them to attain a level of excellence in the so-called STEM subjects akin to that of Asian peers.
The most recent Open Doors report - a reputed annual report published by the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organization IIE - reveals that China saw a 4 percent increase in the number of students from US who studied in the country for credit during the academic year 2008/09. Several recent media reports have also pointed to the growing trend among students across US school districts of enrolling in Mandarin and other Chinese cultural programs. With overt support from the first couple and a number of private, governmental and nonprofit organizations, the trends can only be expected to strengthen.