Education Exchange as an Engine for Strengthening US-China Ties

July 23, 2019

Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch was featured in This is America & The World with Dennis Wholey to speak about the power of international education and exchange in US-China relations. You may view the program in its entirety here


Over a third of a million Chinese international students live in the United States, contributing nearly $13 billion annually to the American economy according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. For these students, the US-China relationship is anything but abstract. Student exchange may not capture the headlines in US-China relations, but its importance cannot be overstated.


On July 16, three guests - former US Consul General in Shanghai and USCET’s Advisory Council member Henry Levine, USCET founding president Julia Chang Bloch, and former US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine - were invited to This is America & the World with Dennis Wholey for a conversation on the state of US-China relations as well as the significance of student exchange in this bilateral relationship. Each guest offered personal insight building to an unequivocal conclusion – US-China relations are in deep peril, though education exchange continues to act as a powerful glue binding the two nations.


Drawing on decades of experience in China affairs, Hank Levine echoed this view as he noted the value of education exchange as a grounding force in public diplomacy, emphasizing the role of students in fostering mutual understanding, which in turn creates a foundation for problem-solving at the highest diplomatic levels. Mr. Levine recognized USCET’s unique role in “supporting the efforts of Chinese scholars, and academics, and rising leaders to substantially deepen their understanding of the United States.”


“The US-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century,” Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch stated firmly. When a rising power challenges the status quo power, she proposed, armed conflict presents a very real outcome. Should China and the United States fail to correctly assess the other’s motives and domestic workings, such a nightmarish outcome becomes vastly more likely. Student exchange, as a result, could hardly be more valuable as a tool to correct misconceptions.  Despite worsening US-China relations, Ambassador Bloch believes that, “the relationships that USCET has built over these 20 years are still there, and they maintain civility.” Education exchange is a multi-generational project, and though it often takes decades to bear fruit.


Tara Sonenshine, who is currently serving as the Senior Career Coach at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, believes that it is crucial for the US to maintain its global position as a destination for educational exchange. Doing so not only presents massive economic benefits for the United States, but also roots the US’ foreign relations in a stable groundswell of goodwill.     


In this era of acute mistrust between the US and China, education exchange is hardly rendered obsolete; instead, this mistrust has made it more valuable than ever.