When Secretary Clinton launched the 100,000 Strong initiative in May 2010, many naysayers dismissed the idea of sending 100,000 American students to study in China as little more than lip service -- a throwaway "deliverable" at an official U.S.-China forum, but one that was unlikely to go anywhere.
But four years later -- the timeframe established by the Obama administration -- we have not just achieved, but surpassed, this goal. This is according to Chinese student visa statistics, which show significant growth over the four years since 100K Strong was established.
Part of me wants to say to the doubters, "Told you so!" But we, as a nation, don't have time for "mission accomplished" chest-banging. Our job of educating young Americans about China is just beginning and, in fact, is more urgent than ever.
100,000 was always an initial numerical target, never an end goal. In the years ahead, we will need more and more American students -- our next generation of leaders, professionals and workers -- to understand China. The reasons are clear: China is the second-largest economy in the world, America's fastest growing trade partner, and a major world power. Every global challenge requires U.S.-China collaboration to address effectively. We must invest in our young people to ensure that when they are at the helm of our nation, they have the skills to keep the most important bilateral relationship in the world on an even keel.
The story goes beyond the numbers. I had the honor to speak this week at the fifth annual U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE), held in Beijing on July 9-10 and chaired by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice Premier Liu Yandong. I not only touted the work we have done, in partnership with the U.S. and Chinese governments, to reach 100,000, but also highlighted our efforts to ensure that students from underserved and underrepresented communities have access to the same China opportunities as their more affluent peers. And I announced a major new scholarship campaign -- the 100K Strong Action Fund -- that will raise funds to provide financial aid to bright students who want to study in China but can't afford it.
The typical American study abroad student is Caucasian, from the upper socio-economic class and enrolled in a four-year college or university. We applaud their initiative and encourage more of them to go to China. But students from all backgrounds need and deserve the opportunity to learn about China, and America needs them to be able to manage this relationship effectively regardless of what profession they enter. Consider this: almost half of American undergraduates -- almost half of our future workforce -- is enrolled in community colleges, yet very few community college students take a language or study abroad. High school students from low-income areas may never have left their home state, and don't have the means to fly to the other side of the world. African-American and Latino students are deeply underrepresented in study abroad for a slew of cultural and economic reasons. But these young people must be part of this story, because they are also our future leaders.
The 100,000 Strong movement is a long-term investment in the academic and professional success of our young people, and in the stability of the U.S.-China relationship. On the global stage, nothing could be more consequential than how this relationship plays out. Join us at www.100kstrong.org.