Despite talk of trade wars and military confrontation, polls show
that more Americans have a favorable view of the Chinese than five
or 10 years ago. Regrettably, this has yet to translate into any
large-scale effort to engage anything besides Chinese factories.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut and Sen. Lamar Alexander
(R) of Tennessee want this to change. In May, they introduced the
United States-China Cultural Engagement Act, a bill to provide a
modest but symbolic $1.3 billion over five years to tackle shortages
of Chinese language classes in the US, as well as strengthen
cultural, educational, and commercial exchanges with China. These
senators are wisely suggesting that the United States take a policy
of "engagement" with China seriously.
Congress and the public must not let terrorism abroad and
political controversy at home blind them from the long-term
implications of this legislation. More than 30 years after opening
diplomatic contacts with the People's Republic, we are still
woefully unprepared to work with a China whose rise increasingly
laps onto our shores. Our government leaders have been too slow to
acknowledge that mutual understanding grows out of classrooms, not
just trade volume, and their complacency has kept the most
significant bilateral relationship of this century in a retarded
Gauging current interest in China and future capacity to engage
China is as simple as looking at our students. The findings are
Cross-cultural studies are down
During the 2001-2002 school year, before the SARS epidemic hit
China, the number of Americans studying in China was 2.4 percent of
the total number of American students abroad, merely tenths of a
percentage point higher than the percentage in Costa Rica.
The dearth of Americans on Beijing's campuses is obvious even
today. Tsinghua University, one of China's most elite and
internationally minded academic institutions, hosted only 92
Americans in 2004, or just 7 percent of its foreign-student total.
In contrast, other countries, primarily South Korea and Japan, have
led a massive student movement to China. There are as many South
Koreans studying and doing business in Beijing as there are
Americans in all of China.
But that is only half the problem. Foreign enrollment in US
universities dropped last year for the first time since 1971. The
number of Chinese applying for student visas to the US fell 15
percent in 2003 and another 17 percent last year.
Interestingly, despite persistent tensions between China and
Japan, Japan has surpassed the US as the foremost recipient of
Chinese students. Yet, contrary to the media buzz about post-9/11
American visa restrictions, the percentage of Chinese granted visas
has actually risen. Accordingly, the number of Chinese studying in
the US last year fell only slightly, still hovering around 60,000.
This decrease in the number of Chinese students is largely
attributed to rising US tuition costs and effective recruitment by
other English-speaking nations, as well as the erroneous perception
that international students are no longer welcome in the US. …