Members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet met with leaders from China for a social and cultural exchange at GW.
By Kristen Mitchell
Elaine Chao, U.S. secretary of transportation, couldn’t speak a word of English when she immigrated to the United States at age 8. Asian Americans comprised less than 1 percent of the national population at the time, a number she has seen swell in her lifetime.
Today Asian Americans make up about 5.7 percent of the U.S. population, Ms. Chao said at George Washington University Thursday. She has seen them win Nobel Prizes, travel to space and design some of the most iconic American buildings. Asian Americans— including herself— have been appointed to the cabinets of three U.S. presidents.
“Asian Americans are contributing to every part of mainstream America, and as America becomes more diverse, we are learning from one another, appreciating one another’s different cultural and social backgrounds, and we are contributing to the rich diversity that is truly America’s strength,” she said.
Ms. Chao joined Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education, and other world leaders at GW for the "U.S.-China Social and Cultural Dialogue," an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and supported by the GW Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the GW Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication.
Chinese leaders and members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, including Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state, participated in bilateral meetings at the White House Thursday morning before the event. The event was the first of four dialogues launched by Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April.
George Washington President Thomas LeBlanc opened the conversation in Jack Morton Auditorium. GW takes prides in its international relationship with the People’s Republic of China, he said.
“Events such as today’s are a tremendous opportunity for cross-cultural engagement, and I believe that universities and our communities can play a critical role, helping to bring together—and participating in—the open exchange of diverse perspectives,” he said.
Ms. DeVos recalled a transformative experience she had touring China in 1988 as part of a program hosted by the All-China Youth Federation. Studying abroad is a great way to learn about a culture, a new language and forge new relationships, she said.
More than 328,000 Chinese students study in the United States every year, and 14,000 American students travel to China for educational opportunities, she said. Ms. DeVos hopes an increasing number of American students will have the opportunity to “get to know fellow students and experience China’s beauty and culture,” she said.
Cooperation between the United States and China is grounded in mutual respect and shared interests, she said, and there is a lot of room for the countries to work together in preparing the next generation for a 21st-century workplace.
“In the U.S. we are proud of what many students achieve and the great work of many teachers to help them do so, but we recognize we are not first in the world in our students’ academic achievement,” she said. “There is much we can learn from other nations, including China.”
Some GW students protested Ms. DeVos’ appearance in Foggy Bottom. A group of students gathered outside the School of Media and Public Affairs to demonstrate their support for survivors of sexual assault. The Department of Education recently announced changes to Title IX guidance that some advocates say would rollback protections for survivors.
Liu Yandong, vice premier of China, said the level of educational exchange between the United States and China would have been unimaginable 40 years ago. More than 1.42 million Chinese students have pursued a university education in the United States.
Vice Premier Liu hopes young people in the United States and China have a global vision for solving the world’s problems and the distance between them becomes smaller.
“The baton of history has been passed on to the young people of our two countries,” she said.
After remarks from world leaders, students from GW and other universities and Chinese basketball player Yao Ming participated in a “Nextgen Dialogue” panel. Mr. Yao, a former Houston Rockets player, grew up in Shanghai and played basketball in China before he was drafted into the NBA.
He was nervous and didn’t know what to expect from life in the United States, Mr. Yao said. He has since learned that cross-cultural learning is a lifetime process. “You can learn something” from everyone you meet, he said.